[Cover of Report] A Survey of the Implications To California
Of the August 10, 1996,
Western States Power Outage

California Energy Commission
Consultant Report

Publication Number: P700-97-003
June 1997



The Executive Summary of this document is available below.

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Purpose

On December 13, 1996, the California State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission (California Energy Commission) contracted with the Survey Research Center, California State University, Chico Foundation, to conduct a telephone survey of a representative sample of California's residential, commercial and industrial electricity consumers to assess the effects of the August 10, 1996 western states power outage.

Questionnaire Development

The questionnaires for the residential, commercial and industrial surveys were developed as a collaborative effort between staff of the Survey Research Center and staff of the California Energy Commission. Major themes in the questionnaires for residential, commercial and industrial customers included:


Likert-type scales of standardized response categories were used in the questionnaires to measure attitudes and perceptions regarding levels of disruptions caused by interruptions or outages, satisfaction with electric power service, helpfulness of utility companies during the August 10th, 1996 outage, and the importance of reliable electric power service.

Sampling Methodology

The sample of residential customers was selected through random digit dial (RDD) sampling which better assures that all residences, including new listings and unlisted numbers, have equal chances of selection. The commercial and industrial samples were randomly selected from the 1997 California Business Register, a database of approximately 60,000 manufacturers, wholesalers, high tech, and service businesses.

Interviews were completed with samples of 200 residential, 203 commercial and 201 industrial electric power customers. A sample size of 200 has a sampling error of +/-6.9% with 95% confidence. Therefore, one can say with 95% confidence that the findings from a sample of 200 represent the population from which the sample was drawn within +/-6.9%. A limitation of the data collected from a sample of 200 is the inability to generalize findings from a small sub-sample to the population for that sub-sample. For example, if 15 members of the industrial sample own back-up power supplies, the sampling error for the opinions of this sub-sample is so high that the results cannot be generalized to the sub-population of industrial customers with back-up power supplies. One can only conclude that 7.5% (15 out of 200) of the sample and somewhere between 0.6% and 14.4% of the population of industrial customers (the sample percentage +/-6.9%) own back-up power supplies.

Survey Results

Short-Duration Power Interruptions

When residential respondents were asked if their households had experienced any power interruptions of less than five minutes within the last 12 months, 53% said "yes". The number of interruptions varied from one (1) to eighty (80). About two-thirds of residential respondents said they were either somewhat disruptive (33.0%) or not very disruptive (38.7%). Another12.3% said they were very disruptive.

A total of 99 (48.8%) commercial and 105 (52.2%) industrial respondents said they had experienced at least one interruption within the last 12 months. The number of interruptions varied from one (1) to thirty (30) for commercial, and one (1) to fifty (50) for industrial customers. A total of 21.2% of commercial and 29.5% of industrial respondents said the power interruptions were very disruptive. An additional 46.5% of commercial and 34.3% of industrial customers indicated the interruptions were somewhat disruptive.

Longer-Duration Power Outages

When residential respondents were asked if their households had experienced any prolonged power outages of five minutes or more during the past 12 months, 57.5% (115) said "yes". The number of outages varied from one to fifteen. A total of 41.7% of residential respondents said these outages were very disruptive and 33.9% said they were somewhat disruptive.

Commercial and industrial respondents were also asked if they had experienced any longer-duration power outages during the past twelve months. A total of 92 (45.8%) of commercial and 95 (47.5%) of industrial respondents said "yes". The number of outages varied from one to 10 for commercial and one to 20 for industrial respondents. A total of 58.7% of commercial and 65.3% of industrial respondents said these outages were very disruptive to their organizations.

Power Outage on Saturday, August 10, 1996

When residential respondents were asked if their households experienced the Saturday, August 10, 1996 power outage, 45.5% said "yes", 48.0% said "no", and 6.5% did not know. For those who experienced this weekend outage, the length varied from less than 20 minutes to more than one day.

A total of 19.7% of commercial and 25.4% of industrial respondents said their organizations experienced the Saturday, August 10, 1996 power outage. The most frequently reported outage lengths for commercial respondents were 1-2 hours, 2-4 hours, and 20 minutes to 1 hour. The most common lengths for industrial respondents were 1-2 hours, 2-4 hours and 6 hours to 1 day.

Back-up Power Supplies

Residential respondents who experienced the Saturday, August 10, 1996 power outage (n=91) were asked if they had back-up power supplies, and only two respondents said "yes". Fifteen of the 40 commercial and ten of the 51 industrial respondents who experienced the August 10, 1996 outage said their organizations had back-up power supplies. Most of these back-up supplies were either batteries or generators.

Contact Regarding the Purchase of Back-up Supplies

Commercial and industrial respondents were asked if they had ever been contacted about purchasing a back-up power supply. A total of 19.7% of commercial and 11.5% of industrial said "yes". They were also asked if they had ever been contacted about other methods for increasing the reliability of their electricity service , and a total of 6.4% (13) of commercial and 7.5% (15) of industrial respondents said "yes". Organizations making the contacts included utility companies and independent power providers.

Contact With Their Utility Company

When residential respondents who remembered experiencing the Saturday, August 10, 1996 power outage (n=91) were asked if they attempted to contact their utility company during the outage 18.7% (17) said "yes". Of the seventeen, nine (9) or 52.9% said they were able to get the information they needed about the outage from their electric utility.

Only 12 of the commercial and 21 of the industrial respondents who experienced the Saturday, August 10, 1996 power outage attempted to call their utility companies. Of these, 83.3% (10) of the commercial and 40.0% (8) of the industrial respondents said they were able to get the information they needed from their utility.

Disruption Caused by the August 10, 1996 Outage

Of the 91 residential respondents who remembered experiencing the Saturday, August 10, 1996 outage, 38.5% said it was very disruptive and 35.2% said it was somewhat disruptive to their households. Of the 40 commercial and 51 industrial respondents who were affected by the outage, a total of 41.0% (16) of commercial and 31.4% (16) of industrial respondents said the outage was very disruptive.

Losses from the August 10, 1996 Outage

When residential respondents who experienced the Saturday, August 10, 1996 outage (n=91) were asked if their households had suffered any financial losses caused by the power outage, only eight people (8.8%) said "yes". Losses ranged from $49 to $5,500.

About one-third (33.3%) of commercial and half (49.0%) of industrial respondents who experienced the Saturday, August 10, 1996 outage incurred losses which included labor costs, costs of raw materials, costs of products lost, costs of damage to equipment, and losses from canceled contracts. Total losses ranged from a low of $40.00 to a high of $5,000,000.

Insurance Claims for Losses Due to
the August, 10, 1996 Outage

Only one (1) residential respondent filed a claim for losses due to the Saturday, August 10, 1996 power outage. The claim for $49.00 was filed with the utility company and was denied. Only one of the commercial and two of the industrial respondents said their organizations filed claims for losses.

Insurance Claims for Losses From Other Outages

Commercial and industrial respondents were also asked, "Other than for the August 10th, 1996 outage, have you ever filed a liability claim for economic losses incurred due to a power outage?" Only 3% (6) of commercial and 5.6% (11) industrial respondents answered "yes". All of the commercial claims and most (70%) of the industrial claims were filed with their utility companies, and only one (1) commercial and four (4) industrial respondents said they were reimbursed for all of the claimed losses.

Thursday Afternoon Outage Scenario

Residential respondents who experienced the Saturday, August 10, 1996 outage (n=91) were asked, "What if the power outage last summer had occurred on a Thursday afternoon at 1:00 PM and had lasted for eight hours until 9:00 PM. In your opinion, would this outage be very disruptive, somewhat disruptive, not very disruptive, or not at all disruptive?" Of the 91 who experienced the August 10th outage, 56.0% (51) said a Thursday afternoon outage would be very disruptive, and 33.0% said it would be somewhat disruptive.

A total of 93.6% of commercial and 91.5% of industrial respondents said their organizations would be disrupted from one (1) to seventy-two (72) hours by a Thursday afternoon power outage. When commercial and industrial respondents were asked if they would experience any economic losses at their location as a result of the Thursday afternoon power outage, 66.5% (135) of the commercial and 74.1% (149) of the industrial respondents said "yes". Loss estimates ranged from a low of $100 for commercial and $200 for industrial, to highs of more than $1,000,000. Slightly less than two-thirds of commercial and industrial respondents said a Thursday afternoon outage would be very disruptive and anotherone-fourth said it would be somewhat disruptive to their organizations' operations.

Worst Case Electrical Outage

Residential respondents were asked to "think about what the worst electrical outage would be for you and your household," then asked, "what would be the worst season of the year for this electrical power outage to occur?" Almost two-thirds (63.7%) said winter would be the worst season, and just over one-third (34.7%) indicated that summer would be the worst. In contrast, 41.4% of commercial and 43.7% of industrial respondents said any season would be bad for an outage.

When asked, "on which day of the week would this power outage cause the most disruption for your household", almost one-fourth (24.0%) of residential respondents who expressed an opinion said any weekday and 27.0% said any weekend. Another17.0% said any Saturday would be the worst day.

When asked, "on which day of the week would this power outage cause the most disruption to your organization's operations," 36.9% of commercial and 42.3% of industrial respondents said any weekday would be the worst day for an outage. In addition, 26.6% of commercial and 17.9% of industrial respondents indicated that Monday would be the worst day. The times of day this power outage would be most disruptive for residential respondents were evening (29.4%), afternoon (18.0%), and dinner time (16.5%).

Residential respondents were asked how long the worst case power outage would last. Lengths of time varied from less than 20 minutes to more than one week. However, 71.3% said the outage would last 6 or fewer hours. Of the nine reasons given for this outage being disruptive, the three most frequently mentioned were (1) the loss of heating/cooling, (2) interference with cooking/meals/dinner, and (3) other appliance problems.

When commercial and industrial respondents were asked about the worst case situation for an electrical outage for their organizations, the length of time between the beginning of the outage and the point at which the outage would be significant to the organization ranged from less than 20 minutes to more than one day. Commercial and industrial respondents were asked, "What time of day would be the worst for your organization to experience an outage?" The worst beginning and ending times for a worst case outage vary greatly among both commercial and industrial customers.

Commercial and industrial respondents were asked what would be most disruptive about a worst case outage. A total of 43.3% of commercial respondents said their computers would shut down, and another19.9% stated that telephones and communications equipment would shut down. In contrast, a total of 36.2% of industrial respondents stated that manufacturing equipment would shut down, and another23.1% said their computers would shut down. When asked about the next most disruptive thing about an outage, the shutting down of telephones and communications equipment, and computer shut downs were the two most frequently mentioned by commercial respondents. Computers shutting down and loss of product were the two most frequently mentioned by industrial respondents.

When asked if a worst case power outage would cause a complete shutdown, partial shutdown, or general slow down in operations, more than 40% of commercial and over 50% of industrial respondents said their operations would experience a complete shutdown. Economic losses due to this outage were estimated to be less than $10,000 by 43.4% of commercial and 44.7% of industrial respondents. This worst case outage would be very disruptive to 60.4% of commercial and 73.5% of industrial respondents.

Satisfaction with Electric Power Service

Residential respondents were asked about their satisfaction with the current electric power service to their homes. More than half (55.8%) are very satisfied and 38.2% are somewhat satisfied. The remaining 6.0% are somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their present service. When asked about satisfaction with their electric utility company restoring service after an outage, 54.5% of commercial and 59.4% of industrial respondents said they were very satisfied. More than 90% of both were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied.

Importance of Reliable Electric Power Service

When residential respondents were asked, "in your opinion, how important is reliable, uninterrupted electric service to your household," 85.5% said it was very important and 12.0% said it was somewhat important. Residential respondents were then asked, "would your household be willing to pay higher electric rates for reliable, uninterrupted electric service," and a total of 21.7% said "yes" and 73.7% said "no". Another4.5% stated that "it depends".

A total of 89.5% of commercial and 95.0% of industrial respondents said reliable, uninterrupted electric power service is very important to their organizations. When asked if their organizations would be willing to pay higher electric rates for reliable, uninterrupted electric service, 32.4% of commercial and 28.1% of industrial respondents said "yes". All other respondents answered "no".

Analysis of the Effects of Outages

Commercial and industrial respondents were asked, "Before receiving the letter about this study, had anyone in your organization ever analyzed the impacts of power outages on your organization?" A total of 10.9% (21) of commercial and 13.6% (27) of industrial respondents answered "yes".

Damage by Winter Flooding

Residential respondents were asked if their households suffered any damage and/or financial losses due to the recent winter flooding. A total of 2.5% (5) said "yes". Commercial and industrial respondents were asked if their organizations suffered any damage and/or financial losses due to the recent winter flooding, and a total of 6.4% (13) of commercial and 5 (2.5%) of industrial respondents answered "yes". The purpose of these questions was to assess the extent of flood damage among respondents, since the survey was conducted shortly after the winter floods. If a large percentage of respondents had experienced flood damage, the results of this survey might have been biased because of the recent flood experience.