Power’s back but officials urge conservation

City News Service

Power was fully restored in San Diego County Friday

following a historic blackout that left some 5 million people without electricity from Mexico to southern Orange County.

But despite the restoration, public elementary, middle and high schools will remain shuttered in San Diego County today, along with federal courts, consistent with announcements made Thursday, when SDG&E reported the outage would likely continue one more day. County courts, however, will be open today, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said.

And the utility asked customers to restrict their electricity usage Friday because the system remains fragile.

The unprecedented outage struck around 3:30 p.m. Thursday. About 3:30 a.m. Friday, San Diego Gas & Electric reported that all power in San Diego County had been restored.

The outage affected homes and businesses in San Diego, Orange, and Imperial counties, parts of Arizona and Baja California.

It shut down the two reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant but the facility did not lose power or experience safety issues, according to its operator.

This morning, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced that it would conduct a full’’ investigation into the outage along with the nonprofit North American Electric Reliability Corp.

In seeking to determine what caused the system breakdown, the agencies will coordinate with the Department of Energy and other federal agencies, the California ISO, the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, California and Arizona state regulators and companies involved to monitor the situation, officials said.

This inquiry is an effective way for us to protect consumers and ensure the reliability of the bulk power system,’' FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff stated.

During the outage, schools and businesses -- including gas stations -- closed; commuters jammed roadways; the medically fragile packed hospitals; and at least two sewage pumps failed, contaminating a lagoon and a river that feeds into San Diego Bay. Torrey Pines beach was also reportedly affected by a sewer spill.

There were several reports of people stuck in elevators and on San Diego Trolley cars, and Lindbergh Field virtually shut down for a time.

Following safety checks completed overnight, North County Transit District officials announced that normal Coaster and Sprinter service would

resume Friday morning. But there could additional isolated outages through the day, SDG&E reported.

Although power is back on, SDG&E encouraged residents to conserve electricity, saying the system remains fragile.’' Residents were encouraged to avoid the use of air conditioners. If an air conditioner must be used, it should be set at no lower than 78 degrees, utility officials say.

Major appliances, such as washer and dryers, should not be used today, according to SDG&E.

The utility set up a phone number for customers to call if they experience further outages. The number is 1 (800) 411-SDGE.

The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, blamed the outage on the failure of a high-voltage power line

between Arizona and Southern California, saying it affected all SDG&E customers and the customers of other utilities as well.

The outage was triggered after a 500-kilovolt (kV) high-voltage line from Arizona to California tripped out of service. The transmission outage cut the flow of imported power into the most southern portion of California, resulting in widespread outages in the region,’' according to Cal ISO.

The Arizona power company APS said the outage appears to have been related to a procedure an employee was carrying out in the North Gila

substation northeast of Yuma.

Operating and protection protocols typically would have isolated the resulting outage to the Yuma area. The reason that did not occur in this case will be the focal point of an investigation now under way.

San Diego police Officer David Stafford said downtown’s Gaslamp Quarterwas particularly busy Thursday night into early this morning as many residents and tourists flocked to bars to pass the time.

There were several burglaries reported around the city throughout the night, but Stafford said early Friday it was too soon to tell if the outage was

the reason.

Authorities issued a statem ent advising the public that the county had declared a local emergency, meaning that any looting would be treated as a