If energy agencies and utilities ever want to scare consumers, they need say little more than “blackouts.” Those rolling power outages, well remembered from the state’s energy crisis of 2000-01, sit at the heart of the case California energy officials are making to keep the troubled Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility open after the worst leak by such an operation in US history. But doubts are growing about warnings that Southern California could face blackouts this summer without Aliso Canyon, contained in a report released last week by California energy agencies. Consumer groups and utility critics contend that the blackout warnings are an irresponsible scare tactic to ensure that Southern California Gas Co. is allowed to keep storing gas at the facility and that ratepayers will pay for upgrades to store even more fuel there. Detractors say the report fails to mention additional natural gas fields as well as other fuel and power options that could help keep the region’s lights on this summer. “The people who control blackouts are threatening blackouts if they can’t keep Aliso open. This is a threat. This is not a report,” said Michael Aguirre, a former San Diego city attorney and a longtime adversary of state energy regulators and the utility industry, which he and others contend have an inappropriately cozy relationship. The Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, the largest in the state, drew national scrutiny when a four-month leak forced residents in nearby Porter Ranch from their homes, some complaining of headaches and nosebleeds. Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a moratorium on injecting gas into the storage operation until Southern California Gas ensures that the wells are safe, a process that could take months. The storage plant still holds about 15% of the facility’s natural gas capacity, and those depleted supplies could pose a problem in the months ahead, energy officials say. Southern California will need Aliso Canyon this summer and beyond to help keep electricity flowing during high demand as air conditioners fire up and gas-fueled power plants are called into service on short notice, according to the report. The California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission and the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s electricity markets and most long-distance transmission lines, released the report last Tuesday. Southern California Gas and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also were involved in producing the 56-page report. If no fuel can be withdrawn from Aliso Canyon, a natural gas shortage could force rolling blackouts during as many as 14 days this summer plus an additional eight to 18 days later in the year. The contributing factors, the report states, are conflicts in scheduling of gas deliveries on the pipeline system, daily demand for gas and outages at other storage facilities. The report notes that Southern California Gas’ other storage fields are too small, too remote or too busy serving other areas to help plug the L.A. basin’s supply gaps. Those limitations, the agencies contend, could make it difficult to send enough natural gas to the region’s 17 gas-fueled power plants. A rebuttal report issued by advocacy organization Food & Water Watch argues that the energy agencies’ conclusions “are based on inflated estimates of the demand for electric power, underestimates of the capacity of other SoCalGas gas storage facilities, and other unsubstantiated or flawed data.” Congestion on the region’s pipeline network shouldn’t be a problem, the group said, because the system has never reached capacity in the last decade. The organization says, for instance, that the highest Southern California Gas peak summer demand over the 10 years was 3.7 billion cubic feet a day, less than the maximum capacity of 3.875 billion cubic feet. But congestion isn’t the only snag, said Terri Prosper, a utilities commission spokeswoman. Natural gas can be slow to ride to the rescue when a power plant is needed quickly. “Because gas travels through pipelines at a relatively slow rate, approximately 30 miles per hour, rapid changes in demand at these plants quickly draws down supply in the pipeline; operating pressures in the line drop and must be replaced quickly both to maintain operating pressure and continue to meet demand,” Prosper said. “Aliso is the only facility close enough to respond on a timely basis.” Among the state report’s other flaws, critics said, was the failure to mention that many of the region’s 17 power plants are run by municipalities that own a natural gas field in Wyoming. Field owners DWP, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, Colton and the Turlock Irrigation District are part of a consortium called the Southern California Public Power Authority. The municipalities, led by DWP, bought ownership in the Wyoming field in 2005 “to further stabilize the single most volatile component of DWP’s operating expenses, thereby helping DWP achieve its goal of maintaining stable retail electric rates for our customers,” the department said in a statement at the time.