SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Californians could soon be waking to electricity blackout forecasts along with the traffic and weather.
The Independent System Operator, keeper of the state's power grid, was expected to release a report Monday detailing how such a plan would work.
"I actually think it's a thoughtful plan ... to give folks an opportunity to understand the likelihood of blackouts on a daily basis," said Assemblyman Fred Keeley, the Assembly's point man on energy.
He compared it to "weather forecasting, to be able to look at the next three or four days, have a percentile about the likelihood of blackouts."
Peter Navarro, a University of California, Irvine, economics professor, released a report last month with a consumer group that recommends the state set a price limit on what they'll pay for power. And if generators don't lower the price, the state should schedule blackouts to cut consumption, he said.
The report by Navarro and the Utility Consumers' Action Network says the state's current method of "highly disruptive random rolling blackouts" needs to be revamped.
UCAN suggests that the state be divided into blackout zones. Utilities could notify customers in the affected areas in advance that power would be cut at a specific time and for a certain duration.
Keeley acknowledged that scheduling blackouts could attract criminals to outage areas and possibly subject the state to legal liability for traffic accidents or other incidents if power is deliberately shut off.
"That is a genuine problem and genuine concern," Keeley said. "I think we would have to work with local governments so they could have a sufficient advance notice to be able to foresee that and try to deploy their resources appropriately."
Critics of the planned blackouts said power producers simply could sell their unused electricity to other states, or trim back production to keep supplies short.
Assemblyman Mike Briggs plans to introduce a bill this week that would have the Public Utilities Commission notify businesses and homeowners as much as one month ahead of time when they would have their power cut.
"We owe the people of this state some kind of schedule," Briggs said. "If businesses and individuals knew what days their power could potentially be shut off or blacked out, they could plan for that blackout accordingly."
He said the ability to plan for outages would especially benefit farmers, who need power to irrigate their crops.
Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, who convened a special subcommittee on blackouts, has also suggested the state consider scheduling daily blackouts to cut the state's power use and drive down prices. Democratic Assembly members plan to introduce their own version of a blackout plan.
Sen. Debra Bowen has said she envisions giving consumers three to five days notice that their power will be cut during a particular period, so businesses could opt to shut down or shift their operations to nonpeak hours such as nights and weekends.
And by treating blackouts as a first option rather than a last resort, the state could cut its peak power needs and drive down prices, Bowen said. California power consumers would in essence form "a reverse cartel to stop the market manipulation and the price gouging," she said.