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Has LA's Summer Blackout Danger Been Exaggerated?

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Critics say the SoCal Gas Company is trying to scare officials into letting it continue using the leaky Aliso Canyon facility

Southern California residents couldn't be blamed last week for making a quick trip to Home Depot to pick up a generator after it was announced that fallout from the months-long Aliso Canyon gas leak could lead to up to 14 days of blackouts this coming summer. Now, however, some are questioning the legitimacy of the prediction. Critics of the report that raised the possibility of power loss this summer, compiled by four regulatory agencies, say that the warnings are meant to scare residents and officials into allowing SoCal Gas to keep operating its Aliso Canyon facility in spite of a moratorium imposed by Governor Jerry Brown.

The moratorium restricts the company from injecting gas into the facility until a time-consuming safety inspection is completed. It seems like a reasonable precaution after the worst methane leak in US history. But consumer advocates think that SoCal Gas is trying to use the specter of blackouts to circumvent this process.

"The people who control blackouts are threatening blackouts if they can't keep Aliso open," former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre tells the LA Times. Aguirre and others skeptical of the report—which SoCal Gas was involved in issuing—say that it greatly overestimates the amount of power likely to be needed over the summer. They also maintain that the report doesn't account for alternative sources of natural gas, including a facility in Wyoming that supplies the LADWP, along with power companies in Pasadena, Burbank, Glendale, and other Southern California cities.

Not surprisingly, SoCal Gas dismisses these criticisms, and ruled out the possibility of any of its other three storage facilities serving as a backup for the one in Aliso Canyon. The utility company may be correct; but after seemingly trying to weasel out of promises to offset the effects of the Aliso Canyon Leak, and amid reports that they still owe displaced Porter Ranch residents close to $1 million, it's hard to completely take them at their word.