A $50,000 electric bill? The cost of cooling L.A.’s biggest houses in a heat wave that would have made old-time coal-burning residents of San Diego or Seattle weep. Instead, the Los Angeles County Department of Water and Power is shelling out over $200 million to get heat-trapping Southern California Edison into the 21st century, when the power provider will be investing $14.6 billion in power-plant upgrades and upgrades to its distribution system. And the state is paying Edison an extra $200 million to keep some of the most vulnerable homes from burning up, in a system of shutoff switches that the utility says could be completed as early as next year. To make up for the loss of the $50,000 heat for a single family, the amount of electricity needed to cool all L.A. County’s homes is expected to rise from 15,000 megawatts in 2006 to 16,000 megawatts in 2011, with the costs to consumers for the coming three years totaling $1.6 billion, according to the state Department of Water and Power.
The money that Southern California Edison wants from the state is meant to help the company maintain its infrastructure when the state is installing new power plants. By switching off the power systems at a moment’s notice during a prolonged heat wave that could have resulted in blackouts, the utility will free up the energy that consumers need to cool their homes. However, the total loss of electricity that the utility is expecting for such a move is not a given, with forecasts making it clear that it will cost the power industry as much as $1.6 billion to cool the same number of homes.
“I don’t even want to imagine how much this is going to cost,” said John R. Pecoraro, senior attorney at the Center for Energy, Environment & Technology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “Not only will this be very expensive, but the electricity companies will feel terrible they are wasting electricity on something so frivolous as turning off air conditioners.”
California utilities are the leading source of electric power to customers in the state, with Southern California Edison representing more than 85 percent of all electricity delivered.
The heat wave that shut down Los Angeles, San Diego and other cities for days in September was predicted to cause power outages of at