Read Overload Online

Authors: Arthur Hailey

Tags: #Industries, #Technology & Engineering, #Law, #Mystery & Detective, #Science, #Energy, #Public Utilities, #General, #Fiction - General, #Power Resources, #Literary Criticism, #Energy Industries, #English; Irish; Scottish; Welsh, #Fiction, #Non-Classifiable, #Business & Economics, #European

Overload

OVERLOAD

by

ARTHUR HAILEY

1979 ISBN: 0-385-02104-6

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 77-i6gzo

Copyright @ 1978, 1979 by Arthur Hailey

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

FIRST EDITION

Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.

-St. Luke, 12:35

0 dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon . . .

-John Milton

Since . . . 1974, the rate at which new electrical generating capacity has

been built in California has fallen to less than half of the 1970-74 level.

As a result, the threat of an economically ruinous power crunch by the

19go's is very real; and there is already apprehension over the danger of

brownouts and blackouts in the ig8o's . . .

-Fortune magazine

PART ONE

Heat!

Heat in stifling blanket layers. Heat that enveloped all of California

from the and Mexican border in the south to majestic Klamath Forest,

elbowing northward into Oregon. Heat, oppressive and enervating. Four

days ago a hot, dry thermal trough a thousand miles long, three hundred

wide, had settled over the state and sat there like a brooding hen. This

morning-a Wednesday in July-a Pacific frontal system was supposed to

shove the heat wave eastward, introducing cooler air, with showers on the

north coast and in the mountains. It hadn't happened. Now, at 1 P.m.,

Californians still sweltered in temperatures from ninety degrees to well

over a hundred, with no relief in sight.

Throughout cities and suburbs, in factories, offices, stores and homes,

six million electric air-conditioners hummed. On thousands of farms in

the fertile Central Valley-tbe richest agricultural complex in the

world-armies of electric pumps gulped water from deep wells, directing

it to thirsty cattle and parched crops-grain, grapes, citrus fruits, al-

falfa, zucchini, a hundred more. Multitudes of refrigerators and food

freezers ran unceasingly. And elsewhere the normal electrical demands of

a pampered, spoiled, convenience-oriented, gadget-minded, powerguzzling

populace continued unabated.

California bad known other heat waves and survived their consequences.

But in none had demands for electric power been so great.

"That's it, then," the chief electric dispatcher said unnecessarily.

"There goes the last of our spinning reserve."

Everyone within hearing already knew it. And everyone, in this case,

included re
g
ular staff and company executives, all crowding the Energ

Control Center of Golden State Power & Light.

Golden State Power-or, more often, GSP & L-was a giant, a Gcncral Motors

among public utilities. It was the wellspring which pro-

duced and distributed two-thirds of California's electric power and natural

gas. Its presence was as familiar in the state as sunshine, oranges and

wine, and usually taken just as much for granted. GSP & L was also rich,

strong and-by self-description-efficient. Its all-pervasiveness sometimes

earned it the sobriquet "God's Power & Love."

The Energy Control Center of GSP & L was a security-restricted, underground

command post, once described by a visitor as like a hospital operating

theater mated with the bridge of an ocean liner. Its centerpiece was a

communications console on a dais two steps above floor level. Here the

chief dispatcher and six assistants worked. Keyboards of two computer

terminals were nearby. The surrounding walls housed banks of switches,

diagrams of transmission line circuits and substations, with colored lights

and instruments announcing the present status of the utility's two hundred

and five electrical generating units in ninety-four plants around the

state. Tbe atmosphere was busy as a halfdozen assistant dispatchers

monitored a constantly changing mass of information, though the sound level

remained low, the result of engineered acoustics.

"You're damn positive there's no more power we can buy?" The question came

from a tallish, muscularly built, shirtsleeved figure standing at the

dispatch dais. Nim Goldman, vice president, planning, and assistant to the

chairman of GSP & L, had his tie loosened in the heat and part of a hairy

chest was visible where the top buttons of his shirt were open. The chest

hair was like that of his head-black and curly with a few fine wires of

gray. Tle face, strong, big-boned and ruddy, bad eyes which looked out with

directness and authority and most times-though not at the moment-with a

hint of humor. In his late forties, Nim Goldman usually appeared younger,

but not today because of strain and fatigue. For the past several days he

had stayed at work until midnight and been up at 4 A.M.; the early rising

had required early shaving so that he now bad the stubble of a beard. Like

others in the control center, Nim was sweating, partly from tension, partly

from the fact that the air-conditioning bad been adjusted several hours ago

in deference to an urgent plea-originating here and transmitted through TV

and radio to the public-to use less electric power because of a grave

supply crisis. But, judging by a climbing graph line of which everyone in

the center was aware, the appeal had gone mostly unheeded.

Tle chief dispatcher, a white-haired veteran, looked offcnded as he

answered Nim's question. For the past two days two dispatch aides had been

continually on phones, like desperate housewives, shopping for surplus

power in other states and Canada. Nim Goldman knew that. "We're pulling in

every bit we can get from Oregon and Nevada, Mr. Goldman. The Pacific

Intertie's loaded. Arizona's helping out a little,

4

but they've got problems too. Tomorrow they're asking to buy from us.

"Told 'em there wasn't a snowball's chance," a woman assistant dispatcher

called over.

"Can we make it through this afternoon ourselves?" This time it was J. Eric

Humphrey, chairman of the board, who turned from reading a situation report

developed by computer. As usual, the chairman's cultured voice was low-key

in keeping with his old-Bostonian aplomb, worn today as always like a suit

of armor. Few ever penetrated it. He had lived and thrived in California

for thirty years but the West's informal ways had not dulled Eric

Humphrey's New England patina. He was a small, compact person, tidy in

features, contact-lensed, impeccably groomed. Despite the heat, he wore a

dark business suit complete with vest, and if he was sweating, the evidence

of it was decently out of sight.

"Doesn't look good, sir," the chief dispatcher said. He popped a fresh

Gelusil antacid tablet in his mouth; he had lost count of how many be bad

had today. Dispatchers needed the tablets because of tensions of their job

and GSP & L, in an employee-relations gesture, bad installed a dispenser

where packets of the soothing medicine were available free.

Nim Goldman added, for the chairman's benefit, "If we do bang on, it'll be

by our fingernails-and a lot of luck."

As the dispatcher bad pointed out moments earlier, GSP & L's last spinning

reserve had been brought to full load. What he bad not explained, because

none there needed to be told, was that a public utility like Golden State

Power&Light bad two kinds of electrical reserve"spinning" and "ready." The

spinning reserve comprised generators running, but not at full capacity,

though their output could be increased immediately if needed. The ready

reserve included any generating plants not operating but prepared to start

up and produce full load in ten to fifteen minutes.

An hour ago the last ready reserve-twin gas turbines at a power plant near

Fresno, 65,ooo kilowatts each-bad had its status raised to 11 spinning."

Now the gas turbines, which had been coasting along since then, were going

to "maximum output," leaving no reserves of either kind remaining.

A morose-appearing, bulky man, slightly stooped, with a Toby jug face and

beetling brows, who bad listened to the exchange between the chairman and

dispatcher, spoke up harshly. "Goddammit to bell! If we'd had a decent

weather forecast for today, we wouldn't be in this bind now." Ray Paulsen,

executive vice president of power supply, took an impatient pace forward

from a table where he and others had been studying power consumption

curves, comparing today's with those of other hot days last year.

5

 

"Every other forecaster made the same er-ror as ours," Nim Goldman

objected. "I read in last night's paper and heard on the radio this morning

we'd have cooler air."

"That's probably exactly where she got it-from some newspaper! Cut it out

and pasted it on a card, I'll bet." Paulsen glared at Nim, who shrugged. It

was no secret that the two detested each other. Nim, in his dual role as

planner and as the chairman's assistant, had a roving commission in GSP&L

which cut across department boundaries. In the past be had frequently

invaded Paulsen's territory, and even though Ray Paulsen was two rungs

higher in the company hierarchy, there was little lie could do about it.

"If by 'she' you mean me, Ray, you could at least have the good manners to

use my name." Heads turned. No one had seen Millicent Knight, the utility's

chief meteorologist, petite, brunette and selfpossessed, come into the

room. Her entry was not surprising, though. The meteorology department,

including Ms. Knight's office, was part of the control center, separated

only by a glass wall.

Other men might have been embarrassed. Not so Ray Paulsen. He had climbed

up through Golden State Power & Light the hard way, starting thirty-five

years before as a field crew helper, then moving up to lineman, foreman and

through other management positions. Once he was blown from a power pole

during a mountain snowstorm and suffered spinal injuries which left him

with a permanent stoop. Night college classes at the utility's expense

converted young Paulsen to a graduate engineer; across the years since then

his knowledge of the GSP & L system had become encyclopedic. Unfortunately,

nowhere along the way had he acquired finesse or polished manners.

"Bullshit, Milly!" Paulsen shot back. "I said what I thought, just like

always-and would about a man. You work like a man, expect to be treated

like one."

Ms. Knight said indignantly, "Being a man or a woman has nothing to do with

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