BG&E ends blackouts, but still is wary

January 20, 1994|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said it would not need to use temporary rolling blackouts today to conserve power throughout the metropolitan area, but still warned its more than 1 million customers to be "conservative" with electrical usage.

"We're doing well, but we're not out of the woods yet," said Karl Neddenien, a BG&E spokesman. "We're counting on customers to continue to curtail any unnecessary electrical usage."

Mr. Neddenien said the electrical megawatt reading was at 5100 at 8 a.m. today, compared with 6077 at 8 a.m. yesterday, when the reading reached an all-time high.

Sustained freezing temperatures and a record demand for power yesterday prompted the utility to begin temporary rolling blackouts and to ask its 1.1 million customers to conserve electricity.

Government agencies shut down early yesterday to conserve power as utility officials -- calling the situation potentially life-threatening -- asked customers to lower thermostats at least to 60 degrees, eliminate unnecessary lighting and curtail use of electric appliances where possible.

BG&E -- taking the extraordinary measures along with other hard-pressed members of a multistate power grid -- also asked businesses to reduce power consumption by closing early and delaying opening until at least 10 a.m. today.

Businesses also were asked to help by lowering their thermostats, eliminating display lighting and through any other measures to conserve electricity or gas. Hundreds of stores closed early to help out, and other businesses shut down early because of problems related to the power outages.

State and metropolitan-area government offices closed at 3 p.m. yesterday as part of the cooperative effort, although essential public safety and highway personnel remained on duty. State government employees were told to report for work at 10 a.m. today. Liberal leave policies were in effect.

State offices in Prince George's, Montgomery, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties are closed today at the request of Potomac Electric Power Co., said Page W. Boinest, spokeswoman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"Safety and conservation right now is no joke," Mr. Schaefer said in Annapolis, sending tens of thousands of state workers home early. "We're closing down."

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. shut down the House Office Building, where the state's 141 delegates hold hearings. But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. decided to keep the Senate Office Building open for hearings, explaining, "We have people coming from all over the state to testify."

The power crisis prompted the Clinton administration to close most federal offices in the Washington area today, giving more than 300,000 nonessential federal workers a paid holiday.

The shutdown of federal agencies -- including the Department of Energy -- came at the request of Potomac Electric, which warned that some buildings in the capital area might be hit with rolling blackouts.

In the Baltimore area, the Federal Executive Board announced that federal offices and courts would be closed.

BG&E spokesman Arthur J. Slusark said the utility closed its own offices and appliance stores and told employees to report today at 10 a.m.

The utility called an afternoon news conference at its electric operations headquarters in Woodlawn to explain the seriousness of the situation and ask for public cooperation until temperatures rise and the emergency passes. Temperatures are expected to remain below freezing until at least Sunday.

About 7 a.m. yesterday, BG&E began cutting power to rotating groups of 20,000 to 70,000 customers. The company uses a computer-driven program that can selectively black out small areas while avoiding hospitals, nursing homes and other critical installations.

TC The rolling blackouts were orchestrated by a computer program with software designed by BG&E, in conjunction with the power demands of the multistate PJM grid. PJM is an association of 11 East Coast utilities that works to coordinate the generation and distribution of electricity.

Special-needs customers -- such as hospitals and nursing homes and, in the current situation, media outlets including the Baltimore Sun -- were protected from the programmed blackouts, which lasted five to 15 minutes.

The outages were halted just after 1 p.m., when BG&E was able to purchase electricity from utilities in neighboring states that had temporary surpluses, Mr. Slusark said.

Electricity can't be stored and must be used as it is generated, he said, which means that the rotating shutdowns could resume if the systems selling their surplus electricity need it for their own customers. By late afternoon, the purchase agreement was holding and consumption here had declined, he said.

The Bulk Power Room at BG&E's Windsor Mill Road facility is generally a calm place, "a monitoring-type outfit" where a staff of three or four watches for unexpected power losses, said Greg Biniasz, senior system operator.

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