Interruptible Power: Questions and Answers

The following document has been compiled to provide members of the Claremont McKenna College community with reliable, up-to-date and comprehensive information about the status of the interruptible power at CMC. A number of CMC staff members have been working continuously over the last several days to provide solutions to this problem. They are outlined below.

What is interruptible power?
Interruptible power is an electrical rate plan offering reduced rates to large power users (>500 kW) by electrical utilities. Since 1987, the Claremont Colleges have contracted with Southern California Edison (SCE) to provide electrical service to our own substation under such a rate structure.

How does this plan work?
In exchange for a reduced rate, an interruptible power rate customer must agree to reduce their electric use to an agreed-upon Firm Service Level within 30 minutes of the time notice is received from SCE. (For The Claremont Colleges, this means reducing all load down to 0 and it affects all of the institutions in Claremont.) The penalty for failing to comply with this order is a major increase in kilowatt/hour charge. CMC currently pays approximately $.06 per kWh through our interruptible power rate versus $7.20 per kWh for using power during a shutdown. Under this plan, the customer can be asked to shut down up to 25 times during any 12-month period for up to 6 hours for each outage, not to exceed a maximum of 150 hours per year. Until last summer, the Claremont Colleges had only been asked to shut down three times in ten years. Since May 22, 2000, we have been asked to interrupt our power 12 times (the last 5 times on November 13, 14, and 15 and December 4 and 5). The duration of the outages has ranged from a low of 63 minutes to a high of 4 hours and 15 minutes. The most recent outages have occurred in the late afternoon and early evening hours while classes are in session, meals are being served, indoor sports are being practiced, etc. Outages during the summer have less impact on campus because they occurred principally during daylight hours.

Why do the Claremont Colleges not opt out of the interruptible power program?
While there has been an option for all customers to switch out of the interruptible power program, that option was temporarily suspended in October by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for most customers until March 2001. Under current legislation, SCE’s rates are basically frozen until March 2002.

What has CMC done to alleviate risks of power outages?
During the December 4 and 5 power outages, the College elected to keep one of our circuits in operation. This circuit served Collins Dining Hall, Appleby Hall, Boswell Hall, Green Hall, Wohlford Hall, Phillips Hall, Berger Hall, Beckett Hall, the east end of Seaman Hall, Story House, and the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. As of December 6, we have reached an agreement with Pitzer College to keep another of our circuits open. This circuit maintains power to the remainder of our residence halls, the student apartments, Bauer Center, Ducey Gym, the athletic facilities, and the Children’s School. We have also reached a similar arrangement with Scripps College to keep a third circuit open through the remainder of the semester. This circuit provides power to Adams Hall, Heggblade Center, the Admission Office, and McKenna Auditorium. As described above, electing to keep these circuits open causes the College to incur a significant penalty. The College will continue to keep these circuits open and incur penalties under its contract for the remainder of the semester.

Our Information Systems & Technology office has installed battery power to two network servers: the central hub for the Internet and the student file server. The students who reside in the residence halls listed above will be able to access the Internet and the student server.

During the outages that occurred in November, the resident assistants and the building attendants distributed light sticks and flashlights to a significant number of students. Administrative and academic buildings have been evacuated and locked down to reduce security risks.

Most of the residence halls have adequate or excellent emergency lighting that remains on during these short outages. After the November 15 outage, one of our feeders experienced a switch failure resulting in an additional power outage in five residence halls for the entire night until replacement parts could be obtained and installed.

We monitor the SCE and Independent Service Operator websites with daily information on the various stages and extent of power usage and supply daily. If we approach a stage 2 alert during the day, the Dean of Students Office will send an e-mail to all students, faculty and staff warning them of the possibility of a shutdown and reminding them to back-up their computer files. As soon as Physical Plant is informed that the power will be shut down in less than 30 minutes, we send e-mails and we initiate a telephone tree to call as many people on campus as possible.

What academic accommodations has the College made to students?
The faculty extended the fall thesis deadline by two days – from Monday, December 4 to Wednesday, December 6. Faculty members with evening classes have been extremely flexible; they have accommodated students by altering deadlines and exam schedules. Some have conducted their classes off-campus and others have re-scheduled those classes. Students with special concerns relating to their academic program are encouraged to consult with their faculty members, academic advisors, or the Dean of the Faculty’s office

Who else has contracted with SCE under this interruptible power rate?
Just under 1,000 large users of electricity in SCE’s service area are under this interruptible power rate. This includes customers like manufacturing companies, refineries, steel mills, etc. It also includes hospitals and higher education facilities – both public and private. Approximately 35 higher education users are under this rate in SCE’s service territory. Among these institutions are Pepperdine University, Chapman University, Whittier College, University of Redlands and Mt. San Antonio College. USC and UCLA are being supplied by the Department of Water & Power and have not been interrupted. The California independent colleges’ (including CMC) lobbying arm in Sacramento – AICCU – has already written the CPUC seeking some relief for these institutions.

Why has the frequency of these outages increased this past year?
Under the deregulated environment, the three principal California investor-owned utilities (SCE, San Diego Gas & Electric and Pacific Gas & Electric) act as buyers of electricity on behalf of their customers, rather than suppliers of electricity. Their plants have been sold to third-party companies who are now the suppliers of this electricity.

Since 1994, California has made minimal additions to generating capacity to meet the growing demand stimulated by population growth and by our strong economy. More than 5,000 megawatts of demand growth have occurred while less than 800 megawatts of new generation has been added.

Based on new plants that already have been approved, are in the licensing phase, or are under construction, California will continue to experience an electricity shortfall in supply over demand until 2003. Outages that occurred this past summer and that continue at this time are a function of the demand from users of electricity exceeding the supply of power being dispatched on the power grid. This situation seems to be exacerbated by heavy demand arising from excessive displays of holiday spirit, among other things (see the LATimes.com article “Power Pinch Steals a Bit of Christmas,”). If the providers have plants shut down for maintenance during a period when demand is anticipated to be low (as was the case in early November) and an unexpected cold spell hits the state, then the supply could fall below the minimum 5% reserve level. Large users will be asked to shut down under their interruptible power rate agreements until the reserve level comes back up to 5%. If taking down these 1,000 users does not produce sufficient reserve levels, then other customers will experience rotating power outages – with no 30-minute warnings.

Where do we go from here?
CMC will lobby with the CPUC and with Governor Davis’ office to seek some relief from this freeze. At the same time, if most of the interruptible power rate customers opt out of the rate plan, reserve levels will drop more frequently and more deeply resulting in rotating power outages for all consumers. We will continue to build in more automatic generators in future building plans.