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
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
Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.
-St. Luke, 12:35
0 dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon . . .
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 . . .
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,
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,
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
"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.
"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
Ms. Knight said indignantly, "Being a man or a woman has nothing to do with