Although Arizona Public Service has taken steps to prevent power shortages like those in California, blackouts in Arizona are still a real threat, an APS official said.
California and Arizona have certain factors in common, such as population growth and ever-increasing demands for power, Brad Ryan, Northeast Division manager for APS said last week during a special council meeting.
There are, however, some important differences in Arizona that could buffer the state from the ongoing power problems California has had, he said.
Unlike its neighbor to the west, Arizona allows bilateral long-term contracts and is therefore not locked into an open-market purchasing structure, Ryan said. Because California has been forced to pay spot-market prices, wholesale electricity averaged $228 a megawatt in that state last month, eight times what it cost a year earlier.
Here, he said, APS is taking a number of steps to increase its generating capacity, he said.
"We're trying to build power plants and transmission lines, we have numerous plants under construction, we're refurbishing some units that we had mothballed, and we're bringing in temporary generation," he said.
Nevertheless, he said, summer is Arizona's peak period for power consumption.
"We have maximum demand on the capacity of this state," he said. "On a July afternoon, when Phoenix is 115 degrees, and everybody needs a lot of energy, and every generating plant in the West and in California is at maximum capacity ... areas of the grid could shut down."
That grid is a network of power transmission lines that interconnect all the high-voltage lines across the Western states.
"People describe (the grid) as the largest man-made machine in the world," he said.
Brownouts or blackouts can be caused by events ranging from an automatic generating plant shutdown to a tree falling on a power line, he said. "Our system is stretched to the limit."
In the March/April 2001 APS customer newsletter that accompanies utility bills, APS President Jack Davis said, "... no one can control Mother Nature, and it's impossible to predict events in other Western states. An extended period of unusually hot weather or a lengthy equipment outage could strain Arizona's power supply this summer."
Rim country residents can help minimize the possibility of power disruptions through conservation, Ryan said. "When the demand is less, there is less chance for blackouts."
For energy-saving tips, Ryan and Davis recommend consulting APS's Web site at www.aps.com. Customers also can call (800) 253-9405 to request a free copy of "How to Lower Your Summer Energy Bill."