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The first days of spring brought a taste of summer: rolling blackouts

Orange County saw summer in spring last week, and not just with the warm temperatures. Last week’s rolling blackouts,the first to hit OC,gave local companies a taste of what could be a regular event a few months from now when electricity demand peaks.

Newport Beach chip maker Conexant Systems Inc. wasn’t hit in the blackouts that darkened parts of the county last week, but the company was warned about the threat from Rosemead-based Southern California Edison. An unexpected blackout during product development could wipe out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work for Conexant.

“We’re crossing our fingers that we won’t be hit too hard by any future blackouts,” said spokeswoman Lisa Briggs. “We’re not in any new product development right now, but that would have to get scrapped if production was stopped suddenly.”

To protect its chip wafer fabrication plant, Conexant officials are considering installing 12 diesel generators worth $700,000 each. But it’s no simple proposition.

“There are air quality control issues. We would have to bring in 12 generators by truck into our parking lot,” Briggs said. “But that is a big possibility, unless the state figures something out. We have already shed as much demand load as we possibly can.”

The blackouts did hit Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A. in Irvine, though the lights went out right at lunchtime.

“It wasn’t that serious for us since most of our employees weren’t working,” said Jim Klein, the company’s head of human resources. “We did have to shut down all our non-essential computer systems after our battery backup power ran out.”

Unsure of the blackout’s cause, Klein’s office called Edison where the person who answered the customer service hotline seemed unaware there was a rolling blackout, he said.

“They said they would send out repair personnel right away,” he said “They didn’t seem to know what was going on.”

Anaheim, which generates or procures power through its own utility, still was subject to the blackouts since it is not a separate control area on California’s power grid. The city saw about 3,200 residents and some businesses lose electricity for about an hour on March 19.

Conservation by the city’s commercial customers, which include the Hilton Anaheim, the Disneyland Resort, Arrowhead Pond and the Anaheim Marriott, helped minimize the impact, according to Marcy Edwards, general manager of the city’s Public Utilities Department. All told, on the first day of blackouts last week Anaheim users saved about 8 megawatts,enough to power 8,000 homes.

Walt Disney Co. reduced power usage by 2 megawatts throughout its resort,reducing lighting at the Team Disney administrative headquarters building by a third. For all resort buildings, including hotels, Disney also turned off a chiller for each heating and air system. n

Sandi Cain contributed to this article.

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