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 cowerted young Paulsen to a graduate engineer; across the years since then his knowledge of the GSP & L system had become encyclopaedic. 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 it. My department has a high record of forecasting accuracy -eighty percent, as you perfectly well know. You won't find better anywhere."
"But you and your people really screwed up today!"
"For Chrissakes, Ray," Nim Goldman protested. "This isn't getting us anywhere."
J. Eric Humphrey listened to the argument with apparent indifference. The chairman never said so specifically, but sometimes left the impression he had no objection to his senior staff's feuding, providing their work was not impaired. There were some in business presumably Humphrey was one-who believed an all-harmonious organization was also a complacent one. But when the chairman needed to, he could cut through disputes with the sharp knife of authority.
At this moment, strictly speaking, the executives now in the control center-Humphrey, Nim Goldman, Paulsen, several others-had no business being there. The center was competently staffed. Actions to be taken in emergency were well known, having been worked out long ago; most were computer-activated, supplemented by instruction manuals conveniently at hand. In a crisis, however, such as the one GSP & L was facing now, this place with its up-to-the-second information became a magnet for those with authority to get in.
The big question, still unresolved, was: Would demands for electric power become so great as to exceed the supply available? If the answer proved to be yes, entire banks of substation switches would necessarily be opened, leaving segments of California without power, isolating entire communities, creating chaos.
An emergency "brownout" was already in effect. Since 10 am the voltage supplied to GSP & L consumers had been reduced in stages until it was now eight percent below normal. The reduction allowed some power saving but meant that small appliances like hair dryers, electric typewriters, refrigerators were receiving ten volts less than usual while equipment wired for heavy duty was being deprived of nineteen to twenty volts. The lower voltages made everything less efficient, and electric motors ran hotter and more noisily than usual. Some computers were in trouble; those not equipped with voltage regulators had already switched off automatically and would stay that way until normal voltage was restored.
One side effect was to shrink television pictures in home receivers, so that they failed to fill the screen. But over a short period there should be no lasting damage. Lighting, too-from ordinary incandescent bulbs-was slightly dimmed. An eight percent brownout, however, was the limit. Beyond that, electric motors would overheat, perhaps burn out, creating a fire hazard. Thus, if a brownout was not sufficient, the last resort was load shedding committing large areas to total blackout.
The next two hours would tell. If GSP & L could somehow bold on until mid afternoon, the time of peak demand on hot days, the load would ease until tomorrow. Then, assuming tomorrow was a cooler day -no problem. But if the present load, which had been climbing steadily all day, continued to increase . . . The worst could happen.
Ray Paulsen did not give up easily. "Well, Milly," be persisted, "today's weather forecast was ridiculously wrong. True?"
"Yes, it's true. If you want to put it in that unfair, ugly way."
Millicent Knight's dark eyes flashed with anger. "But it's also true there's an air mass a thousand miles offshore called the Pacific High.
Meteorology doesn't know very much about it, but sometimes it throws all California forecasts out of whack by a day or so." She added scornfully,
"Or are you so wrapped tip in electrical circuitry you don't know that elementary fact of nature?"
Paulsen flushed. "Now wait a minute!"
Milly Knight ignored him. "Another thing. My people and I gave an honest forecast. But a forecast, in case you've forgotten, is just that-it leaves some room for doubt. I didn't tell you to shut down Magalia 2 for maintenance. That's a decision you made-and you're blaming me for it."
The group by the table chuckled. Someone murmured, "Touche."
As they well knew, part of today's problem was the Magalia plant. Magalia z, part of a GSP & L facility north of Sacramento, was a big, steam-driven generator capable of putting out 600,000 kilowatts. But ever since it was built some ten years earlier, Magalia 2 had been a source of trouble. Repeated boiler tube ruptures and other, more serious malfunctions kept it frequently out of service, most recently as long as nine months while the super-heater was re-tubed. Even after that, problems had continued.
As one engineer described it, operating Magalia 2 was like keeping a leaking battleship afloat.
For the past week the plant manager at Magalia had pleaded with Ray Paulsen to allow him to shut down number 2 to repair boiler tube leaks-as he put it, "before this jinxed tea-kettle blows apart." Until yesterday, Paulsen had adamantly said no. Even before the present beat wave began, and because of unscheduled repair shutdowns elsewhere, Magalia 2's power had been needed for the system. As always, it was a matter of balancing priorities, sometimes taking a chance. Last night, after reading the forecast of lower temperatures for today, and weighing everything, Paulsen gave approval and the unit was shut down immediately, with work beginning several hours later when the boiler had cooled. By this morning, Magalia 2 was silent and leaky pipe sections had been cut from several boiler tubes. Though desperately needed, Magalia 2 could not be back on line for two more days.
"If the forecast had been accurate," Paulsen growled, "Magalia wouldn't have been released."
The chairman shook his head. He had heard enough. There would be time for inquests later. This was not the moment.
Nim Goldman had been conferring at the dispatch console. Now, his forceful voice cutting clearly across others', he announced, "Load shedding will have to begin in half an hour. There's no longer any doubt. We'll have to."
He glanced toward the chairman. "I think we should alert the media. TV and radio can still get warnings out."
"Do it," Humphrey said. "And someone get me the Governor on the phone."
"Yes, sir." An assistant dispatcher began dialling.
Faces in the room were grim. In the utility's century-and-a-quarter history what was about to happen-intentional disruption of service had never occurred before.
Nim Goldman was already telephoning Public Relations, over in another building. There would be no delay about warnings going out. The utility's PR department was geared to handle them; although, normally, the sequence of power cuts was known only to a few people within the company, now they would be made public. As another point of policy, a few months ago it had been decided that the cuts-if and when they happened-would be known as
"rolling blackouts," a PR ploy to emphasize their temporary nature and the fact that all areas would be treated fairly. The phrase "rolling blackouts" was a young secretary's brainchild, after her older, more highly paid superiors failed to come up with anything acceptable. One of the rejects: "sequential curtailments."
"I have the Governor's office in Sacramento, Sir," the dispatch assistant informed Eric Humphrey. “They say the Governor is at his ranch near Stockton and they're trying to reach him. They'd like you on the line."
The chairman nodded and accepted the telephone. His hand cupping the mouthpiece, he asked, "Does anyone know where the chief is?" It was unnecessary to explain that "chief" meant the chief engineer, Walter Talbot, a quiet, unflappable Scot now nearing retirement, whose wisdom in tight situations was legendary.
"Yes," Nim Goldman said. "He drove out to take a look at Big Lil."