You may not have read about it, but we're having an energy crisis here in the Valley of the Sun. Our problems began July 4, when a fire swept through a major transmission substation in the West Valley. The substation fire reduced the ability to bring additional electricity supplies to the metropolitan Phoenix area, so our major utilities, SRP and APS, asked customers to voluntarily reduce electricity use.

The utilities were primarily concerned with reducing usage between the peak times of 3 and 6 p.m. Unfortunately, those are the hottest times of the day here in the middle of summer, so turning up the thermostat isn't exactly appealing. Temperatures regularly soar over 100 degrees F, and our seasonal monsoon dumps extra moisture here between July and September, making it feel even hotter.

The utilities have politely suggested that we raise our thermostats to at least 82 degrees F and avoid using major appliances or extra lights during peak times. Although if we don't abide by their suggestions, they've indicated that they may have to institute short-term rotating outages to prevent widespread disturbances to the overall electric grid in metropolitan Phoenix.

We have all been asked to cut back our energy usage until the replacement transformer is on line - although we don't know when that will be. It seems there have been a few problems along the way. Apparently, the 400,000-pound transformer was too large to send by plane or train, so it came by ocean barge via Washington state. Upon arrival in California, it was loaded onto a tractor-trailer, which then started moving it to Phoenix.

The Rest Of The Story

The trailer crashed the first day outside of Victorville, Calif., after the weight of the transformer shifted. Once the transformer was readjusted, the trailer made it all the way to Twentynine Palms, Calif., before it was stopped again. Apparently, the truck could not negotiate the steep grade and subsequently became caught in the pavement.

At that point, the California Department of Transportation decided that the transformer had to be moved to a special tractor-trailer that can better handle curves. Guess where that "special" vehicle was? Victorville, Calif. So the transformer was held up in Twentynine Palms until the alternate trailer could obtain the proper permits to finish hauling the equipment here. The equipment finally arrived last week, and the utilities are speculating that installation of the new transformer could take up to three weeks.

At least Phoenix residents now have some idea of when things will return to normal, but no one knows for sure when the transformer will be in service. An informal survey of friends and neighbors showed that most people were initially willing to help reduce energy during peak times. As one neighbor said, "In the beginning, we were really good doobies. We turned up the thermostat to 82 degrees, but then none of the threatened brownouts occurred and not many other people seemed to be going out of their way."

Indeed, a local man made it to the front page of the newspaper when he visited an upscale shopping center and found most shops had their doors open to the street. He stated that ice-cold air was flooding onto the sidewalks, so he went from store to store asking them to close their doors in order to save energy. Shopkeepers called security, and the man was escorted off the property for being "a disturbance."

Hot Under The Collar

My sister-in-law, who works for the state, said that the thermostat in her building was initially turned up to 82 degrees all day, but now the temperature is only raised from 3 to 6 p.m.

Many are frustrated by what they see as major bungling on the part of the local utilities. They wonder why spare transformers aren't kept on hand or question why all the problems have occurred in getting the new transformer to Phoenix.

The result is that most of us have gradually slipped back into our comfortable temperatures of 78 degrees to 80 degrees. Only one friend of mine is still sticking to the 82 degrees F rule, but I think even she may crack soon. Apparently she's not sleeping well at night because her house is too warm.

Joanna Turpin is contributing editor. She can be reached at 480-726-7121, 480-726-7120 (fax), or

Publication date: 08/09/2004