State and industry officials last Tuesday told a California legislative committee hearing that parts of Southern California may face blackouts this summer if unusually hot weather is experienced. The latest forecast showed a 1.5%, or 2,000 MW, supply shortfall in periods of peak demand in September, according to testimony given to a special meeting of the state Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee in Sacramento.

This latest data follows similar warnings that have been given over the past three months at public hearings and industry meetings, most of which are tied to fears that congestion on the state’s transmission grid in the southern half of the state will make it difficult to meet sustained peak demand in the face of very hot weather. In the north, transmission concerns have been resolved and an 18% reserve margin in the face of hot weather is considered more than adequate, officials said Tuesday.

As he has been reiterating for months, Jim Detmers, a vice president with the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), warned that grid congestion could be a serious problem, adding that the recently completed Path 15 upgrade in the middle of the state only enhances power flow from the south to the north; it won’t do much to relieve congestion in the south.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief energy adviser, Joe Desmond, told legislators that building more generating plants and transmission lines is a top priority for the governor, along with requiring the major utilities and power suppliers in the state to maintain reserve margins of at least 15% beginning next year. In the meantime, other state officials are gearing up for another push to increase savings from energy efficiency and conservation efforts.

In the midst of the short- and long-term concerns for the adequacy of the state’s power supplies and infrastructure, the state legislature is gearing up for another prolonged debate over whether there should be more retail competition or a return to the pre-1996 regulated utility model. The state’s current so-called “hybrid” model is being questioned by those on both sides of the debate.

The deadline for new legislation, including the expected competing energy bills, was last Tuesday.

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