Californians Expect Another Sweltering Day, Threating Dairy Production

July 26, 2006

The California heat wave blamed for deaths and blackouts simmered into an 11th day Wednesday as residents waited for a promised temperature drop to end their misery.

State and local authorities reported at least 56 possible heat-related deaths, and utility officials kept up their calls for energy conservation as air conditioners sucked in record levels of electricity. Hundreds of dairy cows have died.

An hour before sunrise, the temperature had already hit 84 degrees at the Central Valley city of Bakersfield, where the mercury peaked Tuesday at 111, the National Weather Service said.

The weather service predicted temperatures around the state would be lower by several degrees — but that would still leave the temperature well above 100 in many areas. A slow cooling trend was expected to continue through the week.

Stephanie McCorkle, spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator, which manages the power grid, said the ISO did not anticipate declaring another power emergency Wednesday.

The power supply remained adequate Tuesday, but that didn’t stop blackouts throughout the state as transformers exploded under the strain of the record demand and the heat.

The state’s power consumption peaked Tuesday afternoon at 49,762 megawatts, shy of the record 50,270 megawatts set Monday. The total number of California residents who have lost electricity at some point during the heat wave topped 1.5 million.

“This is a historic heat wave,” Undersecretary for Energy Affairs Joe Desmond said, noting that it was the first time in 57 years that both northern and southern California — an area stretching nearly 900 miles — has experienced simultaneous, extended heat waves.

In Fresno, where temperatures topped 110 degrees for a fourth straight day Tuesday, people on lunch breaks crowded a shaded, outdoor eating area of Mariscos Colima, a seafood and taco haunt.

“It’s too hot to cook,” said Celia Cisneros, 31, enjoying shrimp cocktails and iced fruit drinks with her two children. “We wanted something refreshing. Nobody wants hot food on a hot day.”

In Los Angeles, about 26,000 people were in the dark Tuesday night after hundreds of transformers blew, said Carol Tucker, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Water and Power. “We have enough power to meet the demand, it’s the equipment that can’t handle it,” Tucker said.

Extreme heat in the San Joaquin Valley hit dairy farms hard, killing hundreds of cows.

Milk production in California, the nation’s No. 1 dairy state, was down by as much as 15 percent because of the heat, according to the California Farm Bureau.

The heat also pumped up the political debate between Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Angelides said he would build more power plants, appoint an energy czar to improve energy efficiency and maintain a 15 percent power reserve. A Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman dismissed Angelides’ energy plan as a “push for bigger, more expensive government.”

Elsewhere, 103,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity in the St. Louis area, where two massive storms last week knocked out power to more than half a million homes and businesses. Ameren Corp. had said it expected electricity to be restored to everyone by Wednesday.

“I am going to take a cool shower, turn on the air conditioning and watch some TV,” Miltina Burnett, of Wellston, said after her electricity came back on Tuesday.

In New York, a blackout that had kept tens of thousands of people without air conditioning through the hottest days of the year ended early Wednesday after nine days of rotting food and sweltering homes.

New York politicians have lashed out at Consolidated Edison, saying the utility’s underestimates of the number of people affected hampered the city’s response. Company CEO Kevin Burke said the utility would now turn its attention to investigating what caused the outage.

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