Not long ago, the half-dozen Los Angeles-area cities with their own power utilities were counting their blessings, believing they would escape the impacts of the state's deepening power crisis.
But it turns out that three of those cities Azusa, Pasadena and Vernon could be exposed to rolling blackouts this summer, even though they may generate enough power to meet all the demand within their borders.
Those three cities are located within the control zone of the California Independent System Operator. Thus, if the ISO calls upon Southern California Edison to institute rolling blackouts, customers in those cities would face the same odds of having their power cut off as anyone else in Edison territory.
"We're definitely in an environment no one contemplated," said George Somoano, assistant director of resource management for Vernon's utilities department.
"We are of course concerned about our exposure to the demands to shed load," he added, using the technical term for shutting off power. "Our lawyers are looking closely at the agreements we've signed with Edison and the ISO, and we're exploring our options."
He added that Vernon is home to two major glass manufacturers, a Farmer John Meats processing facility and other manufacturing plants.
Meanwhile, the other three cities with their own utilities Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale are exempt, at least for now.
Thanks to its political muscle, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power has for decades had its own control area and is thus separate from the rest of the state's power grid. Burbank and Glendale have long been inside the L.A. DWP's control zone.
"We're in a fortunate position," said Fred Fletcher, assistant general manager for power with the Burbank Public Services Department.
But, Fletcher said, the city is still watching closely two bills introduced March 7 in the state Legislature that would force all municipal utilities to share in the blackout pain, regardless of which control zone they are in.
Fletcher said that Burbank's good fortune to date can be attributed to geography and key decisions made decades ago, long before deregulation of the state's electric utilities was even contemplated.
Back in the late 1930s, the L.A. DWP, Edison, Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena all joined together to help build the Hoover Dam in Nevada, Fletcher explained. The L.A. DWP and Edison built the transmission grid to take the electricity generated by the dam to power-hungry Southern California. Because Glendale and Burbank happened to be closer to the DWP's power grid, it was cheaper for those cities to hook into the DWP grid; Pasadena, closer to Edison's grid, cast its lot with that company.
With the advent of deregulation in 1998, Edison turned over operational control of its grid to the state's ISO. Along with that went agreements to cut off service to customers in case of emergency; it is those agreements the ISO is preparing to draw upon in the event of severe power shortages this summer.
Meanwhile, Azusa, which is completely surrounded by Edison's service territory, never had an option to escape Edison's control zone.
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