Campus drafts backup plan for possible power blackouts

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs

09 May 2001 | Recent appellate court and Public Utilities Commission rulings call into question Berkeley’s exemption status from rolling blackouts. That uncertainty has prompted university officials to implement an emergency contingency plan in preparation for power outages.

Prior to the rulings, only facilities on the campus periphery and those located away from the main campus were subject to blackouts.

The new emergency backup plan — developed by Physical Plant – Technical Services — allows critical campus units to operate on backup electrical power during a blackout.

“While we have an electrical generation plant that can be used as a backup, there are various circumstances in which the plant would not be able to carry the campus load,” said Tom Klatt, director of emergency planning and communication. “The contingency plan we’ve just implemented will enable us to act quickly and respond to any problems caused by the outage.”

Critical parts of the campus — including the campus Police Department and 911 services, Physical Plant, Environmental Health and Safety, University Health Services, Capital Projects, Housing and Dining, and Information Systems and Technology — will remain operational if a rolling blackout occurs, Klatt said.

Employees can expect a state of emergency to be called if the campus experiences an electrical power failure and the co-generation plant cannot support its power load, he said. In that event, the primary emergency operations center, located in 60 Barrows Hall, will be partially activated to manage the response.

“An emergency generator supports the Barrows emergency operations center, its telephone system and the neighboring campus radio station, KALX 90.7 FM,” Klatt said. “Those communications channels, as well as an outdoor siren and public address system, would be used to inform and instruct the campus community on appropriate actions.”

Seven department operations centers also will be partially activated to assist with essential operations and response activities, Klatt said. The departmental centers are those critical services that will remain operational during an outage. They include Physical Plant-Campus Services; Police; Environment, Health and Safety; Capital Projects; Information Systems and Technology; University Health Services; and Family and Residential Life.

If advance notice of an imminent blackout or grid failure is possible, the campus community would be notified via building coordinators. Emergency alerts would also be announced over the campus’s outdoor public address system, instructing people to tune in to KALX 90.7 FM and prepare for a blackout. If power is lost unexpectedly, KALX FM radio will be the best source for outage updates, safety reports and traffic advisories.

Emergency management area coordinators would be notified through the emergency operations center, Klatt said, and informational updates would be available on the campus’s utility hotline, which is supported by auxiliary power and operates independently of campus voice-mail.

The emergency operations center will likely not be opened for a short-term natural gas curtailment, Klatt added.

“The co-generation plant, which provides steam and electricity to the main campus, has fuel reserves on-site to operate during natural gas interruptions,” he said. “The campus operations most likely to be affected are off-site heating systems for ventilation and water, and research and instructional laboratory facilities.”

UC-Enron contract changes
In a related matter, a federal appeals court has granted Enron Corp. a reprieve from a recent injunction that the energy company restore direct electric service to California’s public universities. Suspension of the April 11 injunction reinforces Berkeley’s predicament over uncertain utility supplies this summer, as well as all other UC campuses in the contract.

Pending further arguments later this summer, the university system will continue to get electricity from Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison Co.

The University of California signed a four-year contract with Enron in 1998, guaranteeing direct power supplies at 5 percent less than the state’s price cap. Enron canceled its direct service in February, forcing Berkeley and other campuses to rely on supplies from PG&E and Southern California Edison. An appellates panel has not determined yet whether Enron broke its contractual agreement. Arguments are expected to continue through the summer, according to Chuck McFadden, a spokesman in the Office of the President.

UC maintains that losing its standing as a direct-access customer lessens its ability to manage power use in the most sophisticated manner possible to lighten the load on the state’s electricity grid. The campuses have stated that Enron’s attempt to abrogate the contract has the potential of costing California taxpayers millions of additional dollars.

Q&A: What to do if the power goes out


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