How Sacramento is dealing with the heat

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 - 8:27 am

The power companies

With triple-digit temperatures broiling Northern California, energy producers are feeling the pinch.

PG&E and SMUD appealed to their customers on Monday to reduce their energy consumption during the afternoon, and the California Independent System Operator, which monitors the supply and demand of California's electricity grid, issued a Flex Alert to urge consumers to reduce their power usage.

Focused on repairs

Chris Capra, a public information officer for SMUD, said Monday that the utility has had to replace several blown fuses and that the heat put a damper on routine upkeep work.

"We've called a restricted maintanence operations day today," he said on Monday. "We won't do any kind of maintenance work today. Only repair work."

Peak pricing day

PG&E notified thousands of residential customers that it would charge them higher rates during peak usage periods from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday. Those customers receive discounts for normal summer energy use but pay more on high-demand days.

"Utilities typically have to pay more for power during these peak periods," said spokesman Jonathan Marshall.

Residential consumers weren't the only ones affected, either. Some of Sacramento's largest electricity consumers have kept their eyes on the thermometer.

The UC Davis Medical Center generates its own power, most of which is used for cooling, said Phyllis Brown, a spokeswoman. Yesterday, the medical center's generator peaked at 14.5 megawatts – not quite its all-time high of 16.5 megawatts, set last August, but well above the average load of 10.5 megawatts.

Some firms are less affected by the heat. RagingWire is a Sacramento-based data center with nearly 500,000 square feet of computers that gobble about $1 million of electricity per month. Jason Weckworth, the company's vice president of data operations, said he discussed the heat wave with the company's chief engineer last week.

As it turns out, the heat wave "has very little relevance to our business," Weckworth said. "Our total bill will maybe go up 3 percent."

For every 100 kilowatts used to power computers, Weckworth said that 40 kilowatts were required to cool them down.

Worst yet to come

But the worst likely has yet to come for California's power grid.

Californians were spared the worst on Monday due to a marine layer that rolled over the coast of Southern California, reducing temperatures there by about 10 degrees, said Stephanie McCorkle, spokeswoman for Cal-ISO.

She said the cooler weather resulted in lower projections for statewide electricity use. But McCorkle warned that electricity consumption could rise by gigawatts tomorrow if the weather doesn't hold out.

"If that marine layer's going to go away, we're going to see" a bigger load on California's power plants, she said.

Schools cautious

School districts took precautions Monday with their summer school students.

Physical education classes in Twin Rivers Unified's summer programs started their day outside at 8 a.m. but moved into air-conditioned gymnasiums as the weather heated up, said Zenobia Gerald, the district's spokeswoman.

"We are also making sure students are drinking plenty of water," she said.

In West Sacramento, students in Washington Unified's summer programs had recess earlier in the day to avoid the heat, said Dayton Gilleland, district superintendent.

At Sacramento City College, a Sacramento Municipal Utility District outage knocked out power to at least one building on campus at about 6 p.m., forcing cancellation of some evening classes, according to campus spokeswoman Amanda Davis.

– Jack Newsham reported electricity-related news. Diana Lambert and Loretta Kalb compiled information from schools.

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