Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Task force blames Ohio for US power outage


Disregard for voluntary rules intended to ensure the flow of electricity opened the way for last summer's blackout in eight US states and Canada, investigators said in their final report. They urged government standards with teeth to ward off future outages.

There was a clear understanding long before the blackout last August that the Ohio region where the problems began was highly vulnerable to grid instability, the report from a joint US-Canada task force said on Monday.

Had the situation been properly addressed, the cascading blackout that sped across states from Michigan to New York and into Canada probably would have been averted, the report concluded. Something as simple as shutting off 200 megawatts of power an hour before the blackout might have kept the problem from spreading, investigators said.

But FirstEnergy Corp, the Ohio utility whose lines initially failed, had little understanding of its own power transmission system because it had not carried out the recommended long-term planning and safeguards -- and backup monitoring system -- that it needed, the report said.

Many of those safeguards and procedures aimed at detecting and responding to potentially devastating system problems, were outlined -- but also ignored -- under voluntary industry standards that were in place, said the report.

Investigators said they found at least seven violations of industry-sponsored North America Electric Reliability Council (NERC) reliability rules linked to the blackout.

The task force, created by the US and Canadian governments to examine the nation's worst blackout, urged creation of mandatory government reliability standards with penalties for those who violate them. NERC, which issues the voluntary standards, has no enforcement authority.

It's been eight months since the blackout, and Congress has yet to act on any measures that might improve grid reliability.

Provisions to establish mandatory rules on the electricity industry have been caught up in a partisan fight over broader energy legislation.

In a statement responding to the task force conclusions, US Senator Pete Domenici, who has struggled to push an energy bill through Congress, said the report "clearly says this blackout could have been avoided." He said provisions in his energy bill address many of the shortcomings cited by the task force.

But some Democrats said Congress should not wait for agreement on broad energy legislation and address the electricity reliability issue immediately.

There's no reason to "let this ... get stuck in a political quagmire" of the energy bill, said US Senator Maria Cantwell, who is a co-sponsor of a stand-along electricity reliability measure.

In its 228-page report, the US-Canadian task force leveled much of the blame for the Aug. 14 power outage on FirstEnergy Corp.

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