With reserves dropping due mostly to in-state transmissionproblems causing potential shortfalls centered in the northern halfof the state, California’s state-chartered independent systemoperator (Cal-ISO) went after emergency supplies Tuesday byinvoking the federal order issued by DOE Secretary Bill Richardsonlast week as California faced the prospect of rolling blackoutsbecause it reserves dipped below 1.5% at one point (Dec. 13).

Lack of sufficient generation in northern California, along withinability to get more supplies from the Pacific Northwest”necessitated the action,” the Cal-ISO said in a prepared newsannouncement. In addition, for almost a week, a major transmissionline carrying power from the south to the north has been overloadedand unable to carry additional supplies, although they are nowavailable from generators that have come back on line after plannedand unplanned maintenance.

On Tuesday, Cal-ISO said there were still 7,300 MW of generationcapacity not available because of planned and unplanned outages,the majority of it (4,700 MW) was still unplanned. The situationcould ease, but given the amounts of continuous power plantoperations last summer, an average of 5,000 MW of capacity likelywill be out of service at any given time for deferred maintenancethrough winter and spring, the Cal-ISO officials indicated.

In addition, some qualifying facilities in northern Californiaunable to operate because of sky-high natural gas prices in recentweeks, should be re-available as gas prices drop as they have sofar this week, said Kellan Fluckiger, Cal-ISO COO.

DOE Secretary Richardson’s order is only good through midnighttonight in California (PST), or 3 a.m. Thursday, East Coast time,unless it is altered by ongoing discussions that were held Tuesdayin Washington, DC, involving FERC, various energy giants,California officials and Richardson. Cal-ISO likely will ask DOE toextend the emergency order for a period that runs through thiswinter, according to Cal-ISO officials, who feel rollingblackouts-at least in northern California-could be required laterthis week with the advent of emergency supplies.

Cal-ISO must certify its emergency purchase request with DOE,under the terms of the Richardson order. Prospective suppliers areonly required to sell power to the Cal-ISO “that is available inexcess of electricity needed by each entity to render service toits firm customers.”

“This continues to be a dynamic situation that has beenworsening over the last three weeks, and that is particularly trueof hydro-electric resources,” said Cal-ISO’s Fluckiger, who notedthat Pacific Northwest sources are already using next February’swater to supply power to California. Some plants are threatenedwith running out of water.

“If no megawatts are forthcoming from this order in the next fewdays we could have to invoke rolling blackouts in northernCalifornia at least later in the week,” said Fluckiger, noting thatcredit is still a concern (as it was last week) but he doesn’t knowof any suppliers refusing to sell into the state.

Cal-ISO hopes to know this morning what sort of response it getsfrom the emergency order.

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