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California Businesses, Residents Suffer Rolling Blackouts

Aired January 18, 2001 - 2:01 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It's crunch time in California. Hair dryers, elevators, computers, even TV sets fell victim to rolling power blackouts again today across the Golden State. Demand outstripped supply during peak time and cash-strapped utilities say they don't have the money to buy extra electricity from other sources. Around 1 million customers are affected at any one time; blackouts are expected to go on at least another two hours today.

The power crisis will be one of the first to face the new Bush administration, and the president-elect commented in an interview with CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: If there's any environmental regulations, for example, that's preventing California from having 100 percent max output at their plants, like I understand there may be, then we need to relax those regulations. California has a faulty law on its books and it needs to correct it.


WATERS: CNN San Francisco bureau chief Greg Lefevre has been following this story closely. He joins us again, thanks in part, to his trusty generator.

I imagine a lot of folks are relying on generators today.

GREG LEFEVRE, CNN SAN FRANCISCO BUREAU CHIEF: You know, I have to wonder, maybe we ought to go by Costco, Lou, and see how they're doing with those Honda generators.

I have to tell you, before we get going here, I stopped by my neighborhood bakery this morning and I asked Ben (ph) what his circumstance was. And he says, well -- he pointed through the door and in the back, and he has one of those generators. The last time we had a blackout, which was last summer, it cost him $16,000 in lost sales, in lost employees and in lost business, as well as all of the time and energy it took to get his business back going.

A little bakery shop, one outage, $16,000. Let's start multiplying that around today, here in California. Northern California is now short of electricity, there's not enough in the system to make all of these homes go. And so, a little while ago, the state's ISO -- the Independent Service Operator, the electrical generation handout company, if you will, ordered the utilities to pull the switch.


KELLAN FLUCKIGER, CEO, ISO: We have requested, at this time, 1,000 megawatts. The request was made at 9:45, so they would have started within minutes of that time. We are preparing, at this time, to go to the second block. Rotating outages means that a block of customers are out for a period of time, typically about an hour, and then that block changes to the next block of about the same size.


LEFEVRE: Now, we have almost twice as many customers out today as we did yesterday. The demand has doubled -- or the shortage, I should say, is double what it was yesterday; so perhaps 1 million at a time will go off-line -- i million customers at a time will go off- line today.

It's now 11:00 out here. We are so short here in the middle of the day, but the ISO is now trying to negotiate around the West all the way up into Canada to bring in more electricity. They anticipate that they might have enough electricity by 1:00 this afternoon, two hours from now; that will mean that today's outage runs about the same length of time as yesterday's.

We know that neighborhoods here, near us in Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, are dark, as well as communities in Daly City just to the South and an area called South of Market, the new dot-com neighborhood in San Francisco, we understand, is also suffering outages today.

How do we get out of this? One of the state officials said, just turn off the lights, reduce the demand; it's going to be really hard when the shortage is so severe. One last statistic: It takes about 32,000 megawatts to run the state of California. The state, right now, has only about 24,000; it may be a dark day.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: Greg, this conservation effort -- how can -- folks might wonder, how can something as simple as turning off a light in the hallway help during this time?

LEFEVRE: You just multiply it out. These people are talking about minuscule percentages -- perhaps 4 percent, 3 percent of the overall use. A 100-watt light bulb in your home could represent that 4 percent. And if you do it, your neighbor does it, or if you switch off your coffee maker -- or, here in California, switch off your hot tub for a day.

Just do that and multiply it out times 1 million customers, 2 million customers -- it could make the difference.

WATERS: Yes, that hot tub could be -- if we could hold off on that for a day, California.

OK, Greg Lefevre out there in San Francisco as we keep track of that story in California -- Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Ellen Hancock joins us by phone now. She's with Exodus Communications -- that's a Silicon Valley Web company that keeps popular sites up and running, no matter. It's customers include Yahoo!, Starbucks and Merrill Lynch -- we want to keep Starbucks up and running during these times.

Ellen, thank you for joining us.


ALLEN: How do Web sites survive and keep running through all of this?

HANCOCK: I would say that Web sites who are dependent on companies like Exodus really can come through this situation fairly nicely.

Just to explain what Exodus does for these sites: We do manage, as you mentioned, large companies; we have their Web sites in our data centers and we make sure that our data centers can provide them power on a seven-by-24-and-by-365 basis.

So we continue to provide customers with power even as we're going through some of these outages.

ALLEN: And how do you do that?

HANCOCK: We provide power three ways: One, we provide power from the cities; for example, we rely on Silicon Valley power here in Santa Clara. If there is a problem with some of the supply, we have systems that are called uninterrupted power supply systems, which are dependent on batteries. And in other cases we have power systems that are dependent on rotary devices.

But regardless, if there is an outage on city power, then we immediately go to those systems. Those systems keep the servers up without any interruption; and then, if we realize that there is going to be an outage that's going to be more than, let's say, about 20 minutes or so, we do have, at all the data centers, multiple generators run by diesel fuel and we then switch over to those generators.

ALLEN: So we were just -- in our last live shot with Greg Lefevre he was talking about that there's been a run on generators.

No doubt you're already taking care of that.

HANCOCK: That's right.

ALLEN: Did you utilize this because you knew that the power situation in California was a precarious one? HANCOCK: I would say that we have been putting these generators and these power supply systems in all our data centers, now, around the world; and we do it for multiple reasons.

There are times, for example, whether it's in Washington, D.C. or New York or Seattle, where a storm will cause power outages, as you know. And even a minor storm outage would have the same impact on these servers; these servers must stay up.

And so that design actually works for us in California in that, if we do have a problem with getting sufficient power, we can really run for days -- in fact longer -- on our generators if, in fact, we have to. We commit to our customers that we will keep their servers up as we go through any issues as it relates to power.

ALLEN: Well, we hope that there are other businesses and even some residents who can have some generator backups, for them as well.

Thank you, Ellen Hancock with Exodus.



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