Your AC was turned off on a 99 degree day. Here’s why

A outdoor grey generator with the brand name "Generac" written across it sits in between some bushes.
Air conditioning across the Claremont Colleges was shut down for several hours when Southern California Edison requested they decrease their power usage Sept. 4, during which generators could no longer be used to supplement the colleges’ energy load due to new state regulations. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

On Sept. 4, a hot, sunny day with a high of 99 degrees Fahrenheit, students were left struggling in the heat when air conditioning across the Claremont Colleges was shut down for several hours after Southern California Edison, the local electric utility, requested the colleges decrease their power usage.

The 5Cs regularly participate in SCE’s Base Interruptible Program, according to Colin Tudor, spokesperson for The Claremont Colleges Services. During a BIP event, the 5Cs have 15 or 30 minutes to reduce their energy load to a certain level. If they exceed that level, they’ll incur a penalty and pay excess energy charges, according to SCE.

SCE usually dispatches a BIP in the event of a system emergency, the company said. 

SCE also often calls BIPs late in the summer as drills to assess customers’ ability to reduce electrical usage in the event of a power emergency. Since 2004, SCE has only had five transmission emergencies that triggered a full BIP dispatch, SCE said.

The main way the colleges reduce electricity load is turning off non-essential lighting and air conditioning, Tudor said via email. 

Scripps College shut down air conditioning in all residence halls except Wilbur and Kimberly Halls, as well as in the Malott Commons dining hall, according to an email sent at 5:22 p.m. to Scripps students by the school’s facilities department. The BIP event lasted until 10 p.m., the email said.

All buildings on Pomona College’s campus except the Seaver Science Complex experienced energy cuts, according to Robert Robinson, Pomona’s assistant vice president of facilities. All the buildings on Pitzer’s main campus also experienced cuts, said Bev Lloyd, Pitzer’s assistant director of maintenance operations and construction.

Students at Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College also reported the air conditioning being turned off at their schools during the BIP event. 

To cool down, Rose Gelfand SC ’21 said she “laid in front of a fan on the floor.”

In the past, the colleges used generators to make up the colleges’ energy needs during BIP events. 

But new regulations the California Public Utilities Commission implemented in 2018 banned using “fossil-fuel backed resources,” such as generators that run on diesel fuel, to supplement energy during demand response programs such as BIP.

The generators could potentially be used again during BIP events in the future. State regulators are currently examining bio-diesel for approval for generator use during demand response programs, Robinson said.

Pitzer has two solar arrays on campus that generate power to help offset energy consumption, Lloyd said. Pomona also has solar arrays throughout the campus to supplement energy requirements during daylight hours, according to Robinson.

But the BIP wasn’t the only power outage the colleges experienced. The next day, “most areas of the Claremont Colleges” were hit with another power outage, according to a Campus Safety email.

That outage resulted from a brief interruption in power from SCE, which caused several large breakers to trip, Tudor said. 

The unexpected power loss impacted additional systems that BIP did not. 

Brandon Rho CM ’22 said he was stuck in an elevator in Fawcett Hall for 15 minutes before the power came back on. 

Rho pressed the emergency button and “they said they’ll have someone on the way but … the power came back on before they came,” he said.

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