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Blackouts unlikely in Utah this summer

Utility says West is in better shape than last year

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PacifiCorp has said for several months that power blackouts in Utah this summer were unlikely. With summer roughly halfway finished, the company is sticking to that forecast.

Bill Landels, the company's top official in Utah, said this week that several factors that caused troubles in California last summer have changed this summer — for the better.

"We're in reasonable shape," Landels said. "But we've yet to be fully tested. We're only in July. We've still got August and September to come yet."

The utility, which operates as Utah Power in Utah and Idaho, has benefited from a reversal of fortune since last summer. Landels noted that 14,000 megawatts of generation was unavailable in the West last year because of plant shutdowns. The figure now has dropped to 3,000 megawatts.

A megawatt is enough electricity to power about 500 homes.

Also helping the Western energy situation is new generation totaling about 6,000 megawatts. Utah Power has added 100 megawatts this summer at the Gadsby Power Plant in Salt Lake.

In addition to better supplies, the demand for power has fallen, thanks in part to higher prices in California and the Northwest, cooler overall weather and conservation programs.

Last summer Utah was gobbling up about 3,500 megawatts during peak usage, but that now is about 3,200 megawatts. Gov. Mike Leavitt noted Thursday that the state's PowerForward conservation program has cut about 100 megawatts off use during peak days throughout the Utah customer base of Utah Power, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and the Utah Municipal Power Agency.

PacifiCorp also has implemented customer-credit programs for conservation and contracted with three large industrial users to pay for power they saved from curtailing their operations.

During the next decade, the company could boost generation in the state, perhaps to the tune of $1 billion of investment, Landels said. The Gadsby plant could be converted to use a fuel other than natural gas, and a 550-megawatt unit added at the Hunter plant in Emery County could cost $850 million. More hydro and wind facilities also are possible, Landels said.

Leavitt has said the state will need 1,800 to 3,100 megawatts of additional power in the next decade, and Landels said PacifiCorp could contribute 1,000 megawatts toward that goal.

"There is a place for a number of players, but we've got to be careful of over-provision possibilities. These things happen in cycles," he said.

The possible $1 billion investment would be an economic shot in the arm for Utah following the Olympics, the I-15 reconstruction and completion of the Gateway project.

"We still could be," Landels said, "one of the biggest investors in the state."


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com