Mammoth "Fined" in California Power Saga


Mammoth Lakes, CA, Jan. 26, 2001--(SAM Magazine) Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, which gets its electrical power from Southern California Edison (SCE), has seen its electric rates jump from 7 cents per kilowatt hour to $9 per kilowatt hour 12 times since January 1. The so-called penalty is the cost of electricity when the utility decides it needs to institute a "rolling blackout" and the affected company wants to continue receiving juice.

Because of a special contract Mammoth has had with SCE for the last 10 years, when the utility decides to cut power to some users (apparently because of a statewide supply shortage) it calls the consumer and tells them the power interruption will commence in 30 minutes unless the company chooses to keep getting supplied.

In Mammoth's case, keeping the lifts running is more important than being hit with a one-day electricity bill approaching $20,000, so it keeps getting electricity but does its best to cut power elsewhere. In essence, the resort has decided to run less lifts during the middle of the week and run some lifts on diesel generators. Then, during the brownout period, which can last for up to six hours at a time, they turn off televisions, office lights, heaters and other non-essential appliances to the tune of almost a 50 percent reduction in power use.

So far, Mammoth is the only California resort to be affected by the state's power crisis. Most of the Lake Tahoe Basin, including Alpine Meadows, Heavenly, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Squaw Valley, are served by Nevada-based Sierra Pacific Power Company. Kirkwood has its own power plant. The southern Tahoe areas are within an affected power grid, but so far have not been approached about power interruptions. Snow Summit, because of its propensity to make a tremendous amount of snow, operates generators for much of its electricity needs.

No one else in the region has suffered. Up north, Mount Shasta Ski Park is in much the same situation as many Tahoe resorts, getting its power from Pacific Power and Light in the northwest grid of California that also services Oregon and Idaho. So far they've had no interruption problems.

"The state is reregulating power in California," said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association. Along with looking at other sources of power and continuing conservation efforts, Roberts says the state also has to fix a marketing nightmare caused by its power woes.

That subject was discussed at a meeting yesterday of the state's tourism commission and Roberts says Governor Gray Davis needs to explain to potential visitors to California that, "we've got it solved and that you can come here and the lights will be on." According to Roberts, the governor is also negotiating with the state's utility commission to waive the penalties for companies choosing to continue to receive power during rolling blackouts.