ALHAMBRA, Calif. (AP) — Southern California will survive the summer without major blackouts despite the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, but conservation measures will be critical if there is a heat wave or a disaster, state and utility officials said Wednesday.
"We think that we'll be able to make it through the summer," said Lynda Ziegler, executive vice president of Southern California Edison, which operates the San Onofre plant. "If we have five or six or eight days in a row that are very, very hot, we will need people to conserve."
The officials unveiled a program that will unleash a flood of emails, TV ads and Internet website alerts when California's energy grid operator declares a so-called "Flex Alert." People will be urged to turn off lights, turn down air conditioning and postpone appliance use until evening, shifting the electrical demand to off-peak hours.
It's part of a program to stretch tight supplies that also includes the recent completion of the $2 billion Sunrise Powerlink, a transmission line bringing power through eastern San Diego County and upgrading another major line. In addition, two mothballed generators at a power plant in Huntington Beach are being reactivated to provide 442 megawatts of energy and support to allow power to be imported from the San Diego area, officials said.
Also, utilities already have programs where some users have agreed to one-hour blackouts or other power reductions during power emergencies.
With all those moves, "we're hopeful that we can get through the summer, but it's going to be very tight," said Steve Berberich, chief executive officer of the California Independent System Operator Corp., which manages much of the state's power grid.
Weather forecasts predict that high temperatures in July and August will only be a degree or two hotter than average, but several days of high heat — when sweltering Californians rush to the air conditioner — or a disaster that knocks out a power station or transmission line could prompt a Flex Alert, Berberich said.
Conservation measures can reduce the electrical demand by thousands of megawatts and helped ease California's rolling blackouts during an energy crisis of 2000-2001 that prompted adoption of the Flex Alert program, said Walter McGuire, the campaign's director.
"It's the one thing you can do quickly. You can call it, you can see the power come down," and it is especially important when local power supplies are affected, such as when a fire knocks out a major transmission line, he said.
Conservation could reduce demand statewide by as much as 1,500 megawatts, McGuire said.
By comparison, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station produced 2,200 megawatts, or enough power for 1.4 million homes.
The twin-reactor plant between Los Angeles and San Diego is the largest power plant in Southern California, providing nearly 10 percent of the region's electricity. It has been shut down for nearly five months following a break in a tube that carries radioactive water. Investigators have found unusual wear on hundreds of tubes running through the plant's steam generators.
There is no date to restart the plant but it will remain offline through at least August, when Southern California Edison plans to submit a proposal to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart the Unit 2 reactor.
Ziegler declined to comment on whether the company is on target to submit that proposal or whether its engineers had managed to solve vibration problems that caused the tube damage.