Mason's darkened rooms, a glow could be seen emanating from Room 204.
Inside, Associate Professor Eric Miller contorted his body to read by
Coleman lantern while his 20 students used votive candles to illuminate
Welcome to the beginning of spring classes at Pomona
College and to Philosophy 77: Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations,
Wednesdays 7-10 p.m. Welcome, too, to California's suddenly blossoming
In another classroom that same morning, Assistant Professor
James Marshall's Introduction to Computers course wasn't going quite as
planned. With more than enough light streaming through Carnegie's windows,
but sans electricity, he explained the process of compiling computer programs
with diagrams on the white board. Fortunately, the computer lab was scheduled
in a building with a generator.
While the outages were inconvenient, they did offer
some an unexpected quiet time without computers. In Norton-Clark one evening,
a group of students gathered in the hall to discuss criminal insanity
and the justice system, while others played Trivial Pursuit, and some
traveled to local coffee shops to study.
Pomona, in partnership with the other Claremont Colleges,
had signed an interruptible power agreement with Southern California Edison
in 1987. In return for significant savings in their utility bills, the
Colleges agreed to curtail power when Edison's power reserves reached
critical lows or to pay a penalty of 100 times the normal rate for power
during those periods. Prior to 1999, the Colleges were asked to curtail
power only once or twice a year during the summer, though the contracts
limited curtailments to a maximum of 100 hours per year
Following several outages in November, lasting from
45 minutes to 3 hours, Pomona adopted a temporary policy of overriding
electrical interruptions to keep the campus fully powered, for the remainder
of the semester. The bill for the 11 hours of extra light and power that
Pomona gained in December through the overrides (December 4-7) was approximately
$145,000. To minimize the impact of future outages, the College installed
six small generators to power essential buildings.
In January, however, the California energy crisis expanded
exponentially. From January 1 to January 25, Edison called for 12 power
curtailments for a total of 72 hours. By the second day of classes, Pomona
instituted a policy to provide power during peak class times and during
nighttime hours. At a cost of approximately $16,000 per kilowatt-hour,
Pomona overrode the curtailments for approximately 19 hours.
"Safety," stressed President Peter Stanley, "is our
highest priority. We're also doing everything we can to meet our mission
of providing our students with the quality education they're here for."
Classes in buildings where power was interrupted were
moved to buildings with generator power where possible. The Science Library
was available as a lighted space for studying when power interruptions
occurred, and Frary Dining Hall remained open for meal service.
With the power crisis escalating, Campus Planning ordered
two large 2-megawatt generators, capable of powering most of the Pomona
campus. The College also joined 13 similar institutions to form the Power
Alliance of Southern California Independent Colleges and Universities,
to work for state-level action for relief from power interruptions and
On January 26, the California Public Utilities Commission
issued a decision ending the higher penalty rates for interruptible plan
customers after hearing from many who were unable to shut off all power
during curtailments and were facing tremendous fines. The PUC also ruled
that penalties incurred by these customers between October 1, 2000 and
January 25, 2001 should not be billed but tracked in a separate account.
A final decision on the penalties has yet to be made. Meanwhile, Edison
is still requesting curtailments, which the PUC expects interruptible
customers to observe when possible.
In February, Pomona College completed the installation
of the new 2-megawatt diesel generators, which are capable of powering
most of the campus in the event of rolling blackouts. In such an event,
the generators can be running within 45 minutes or less. Additionally,
the campus community is continuing its efforts to conserve energy and
reduce power usage. Collectively, The Claremont Colleges are studying
the feasibility of co-generation and the availability of alternate sources
of electrical power, for longer-term needs.
Projections made by Southern California Edison and by
the California Public Utilities Commission show continuing power shortages
until the year 2003.
Reflecting the sentiments of many on campus, Professor
Miller noted that "As a one-time thing the outages were kind of amusing
and weird. But, it would get old really fast. The one thing that kept
it from being a rollicking party was the nagging suspicion that the whole
semester might be like this." Fortunately, Pomona has taken the steps
to ensure that that won't happen. --Cynthia Peters