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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

High rates, not the threat of blackouts, is driving energy conservation

Orange County and the rest of California not only escaped rolling blackouts last week but saw a surplus of power, even as temperatures neared 100 degrees and higher in inland OC and elsewhere.

Despite a blackout-free summer so far, OC businesses say they aren’t growing complacent about conservation,a key driver of the state’s ample electricity supply. A lack of blackouts is a pleasant surprise, local managers say, but they’re still holding the line,if not for fear of outages then because of higher electricity rates.

“Our electricity bill has doubled since December,so we’re still conserving as much as possible,” said Mika Kanda, vice president of human resources at Santa Ana-based Textron Aerospace Fasteners, a unit of Providence, R.I.-based Textron Inc.

“Higher prices have helped make people more aware of electricity conservation both in businesses and homes,” said Nancy Nelson, a spokeswoman for MGE UPS Systems Inc. in Costa Mesa, the U.S. arm of the French maker of uninterruptible power supply units. “We still send out a lot of e-mails reminding people to shutdown their equipment and turn out lights.”

At Kingston Technology Co., the Fountain Valley-based maker of computer memory products, air conditioners and other power-hungry equipment still are running. But William Wang, the company’s general affairs manager, said Kingston is doing so as little as possible without making things “absolutely uncomfortable.”

“We are still reducing power consumption,” Wang said. “This still is an everyday priority for Kingston,whether the weather is hot or cold.”

Newport Beach chipmaker Conexant Systems Inc. said it hasn’t changed its policy on power conservation and encourages employees to cut back on their usage both at work and home.

“We’re still maintaining our efforts,” Conexant spokeswoman Angelina Lopez said. “We feel it’s important to conserve energy and eliminate as many problems associated with power shortages as possible.”

Even with higher electricity rates, the lack of blackouts has been good news for many companies. Textron Aerospace Fasteners, which counts 160 OC employees, hasn’t had to use its diesel generators yet this year, despite increased output and power usage vs. last year, according to the company’s Kanda.

“Generator rental is expensive, but we’ve always considered it important insurance for us to have backup capacity,” he said.

At MGE UPS, officials haven’t had to turn to their back-up generator since June. Still, the company said its holding the line on energy usage.

“We do no product testing past noon,” the company’s Nelson said.

Endevco Corp., a San Juan Capistrano maker of vibration-measurement instruments that’s part of Britain’s Meggitt PLC, gets its power directly from Houston-based Enron Corp. and is insulated from rising rates. But conservation still is the watchword, according to manufacturing manager Mike Will.

“We’ve maintained the same conservation levels we set out in June,which is about 20% lower than our power consumption levels at the same time last year,” Will said.

It’s good companies are keeping up conservation, according to Marcy Edwards, manager of Anaheim’s Public Utilities. California is far from out of the woods, she contends.

“One of the typical hottest months actually is August,not June or July,” Edwards said. “Those are months where it’s not unusual to have mild weather. Last week was more representative of typical summer weather here.”

Anaheim, the only OC city with its own electric utility, is pushing conservation and is advising residential and commercial customers,including the Disneyland Resort and Edison International Field,to continue doing the same, Edwards said. The city hasn’t had a power rate hike this year.

During last week’s hottest days, the difference between electricity supply and demand, according to the Folsom-based California Independent System Operator, was 4,000 megawatts.

“That’s cutting things extremely close,” Edwards said. “For a 45,000-megawatt system, 4,000 is not exactly a large safety margin.”

Still, any surplus stands to be sold at a loss by the state as a result of long-term power contracts signed earlier this year. In July, California lost $46 million selling extra power after cool weather cut demand.

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