View Full Version : POWER OUTAGE - Thur. August 14 at 4:pm

August 14th, 2003, 05:43 PM
Major power outage hits New York, other large cities

Thursday, August 14, 2003 Posted: 5:35 PM EDT (2135 GMT)

People crowd into the streets of Manhattan during the power outage.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A major power outage simultaneously struck dozens of cities in the United States and Canada late Thursday afternoon.

Cities affected include New York; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Toronto and Ottawa, Canada. The power outage occurred shortly after 4 p.m.

State officials said the Niagara-Mohawk power grid was overloaded. The grid provides power for New York and stretches into Canada. The officials said the outage is likely a natural occurrence and not related to terrorism.

"It's probably a natural occurrence which [struck] the power system up there," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told CNN. "The good news is, Con Ed's facilities have shut down automatically, which they're programmed to do." Consolidated Edison is the New York area power company.

Black smoke coming from a power station on East 14th Street "was a natural thing," Bloomberg said. "No damage was done to the Con Ed facilities," he said.

A statement from the Department of Homeland Security said, "The department is working with state and local officials an the energy sector to determine the cause of the outage and what response may need to be taken."

Much of Midtown Manhattan and Wall Street was shut down. All area airports and the Long Island Railroad were also affected.

The Federal Aviation Administration grounded planes at all three New York area airports and in Cleveland because the blackout affected security screening facilities. The FAA reported planes also were grounded at the Toronto airport. The airports were operating on backup power, officials said.

Bloomberg said it was unknown how long the outage may last.

The New York City Police Department said a number of people were trapped in elevators. Thousands of people could be seen leaving buildings and walking into the streets. New York subways were reported stopped and people were trapped in the cars.

"We are going to have a situation where people are going to have to walk a long distance. They need to be careful," Bloomberg said. "Our advice is to go home, open up your windows, drink a lot of liquids."

August 14th, 2003, 05:45 PM
Carroll: Thousands walking the streets

Thursday, August 14, 2003 Posted: 5:28 PM EDT (2128 GMT)

People crowd the streets of Manhattan.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A massive power outage struck the Northeast coast just after 4 p.m. EDT Thursday, cutting electricity to New York City and dozens of other cities, officials said.

Outages began in Ottawa, Canada, and spread to Cleveland, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, New Haven, Connecticut, and other locations.

CNN anchor Kyra Phillips talked with CNN correspondent Jason Carroll, who was in the New York bureau when the electricity went out.

PHILLIPS: Jason, can you kind of take us back from when this first happened? Were you in the newsroom and all of a sudden everything just went out?

CARROLL: Absolutely. It was just after 4 here in the newsroom at the CNN bureau in New York City up on the 21st floor when all of a sudden the power just simply went out, went to black.

We went out to look out the window to see if it first just was our building or several others and saw immediately that it was in fact other buildings as well.

We're now being told that power is out at all three major airports, John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airport.

The Long Island Railroad, which is the train service that services many of the commuters here in New York City to the outlying areas -- the trains are no longer running there as well.

Power out at the United Nations. Power out in downtown New York, at Wall Street.

At City Hall, power was out, but we're now told that they're running on generators. Power out on the Upper Side, on the east side.

We have gotten in touch with the New York City Police Department. Obviously they say they're being bombarded with calls from people who are obviously concerned, wanting to know what's going on. They're trying to sort it out, trying to find out exactly what has happened.

I can tell you just from looking out my window here on the 21st floor, down on the streets of Manhattan -- where CNN Correspondent Maria Hinojosa is down there -- thousands of people out on the street there coming out of buildings.

Obviously anyone who knows Manhattan knows that this is a city made up of skyscrapers obviously a number of people are caught in elevators.

We know that some of our co-workers are trapped in elevators at this point, calling from their cell phones trying to get information in terms of what exactly is going on.

It is quite a scene to look out the window and see what it a busy time anyway during rush hour and to see, again, literally thousands of people wandering the streets.

Everyone is probably asking the same question, Why did the power go out, and when is it likely that it will come back on

August 14th, 2003, 05:50 PM
August 14, 2003

Transportation Systems Disrupted; No Initial Sign of Terrorism, Officials Say

Electricity went out across broad regions of the East and Middle West this afternoon, shutting down trains and subways and sending people into the streets from New York City to Detroit.

The series of blackouts began around 4 p.m. as lights, air-conditioning and transportation went out in New York, northern New Jersey, parts of Long Island and Connecticut and as far west as Detroit and into parts of Canada, including Toronto.

There was no immediate indication that the string of blackouts was linked to terrorism, but that possibility was not being discounted in Washington, where Tom Ridge, the Homeland Security Secretary, was meeting with his top advisers.

There were no power failures reported in Washington or any of its Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

The Cable News Network quoted a federal emergency-management official as saying, ``We have no absolutely idea what this is.'' Whatever it was, it created instant problems for transportation coordinators. Airports were closed across much of the East this afternoon, and controllers were busy rerouting flights.

Just before 5 p.m., Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City said he had been told by upstate authorities that the power failures were due to an overload on the Niagara Mohawk Power Grid, which supplies power to much of the Northeast. There had been an earlier part of a fire in a Consolidated Edison power plant in Manhattan.

Whatever the cause, on an afternoon that was hot and hazy across much of the East and Midwest, the blackout caused thousands of people to pour into the streets of New York, calmly but with some bewilderment, as many of them would have to find new ways to get home -- and cope with lack of air-conditioning once they got there.

There were no immediate reports of panic or looting. Some public buildings were operating on emergency generators.

This afternoon's series of failures recalled those of July 1977, which plunged New York City into blackness on a sweltering summer evening, and that of November 1965, when a domino-effect string of failures darkened lights and halted the engines of transportation across much of the East.

August 14th, 2003, 06:00 PM

August 14th, 2003, 06:02 PM
Outage cuts power to 10 million Canadians
Thu August 14, 2003 05:36 PM ET

TORONTO, Aug 14 (Reuters) - A blackout brought most of southern Ontario to a standstill on Thursday afternoon, turning off power to as many as 10 million people as a massive outage hit eastern North America.

In Toronto, Canada's largest city, the transit system ground to a halt and thousands were stranded as temperatures hit 30 degrees Celsius (86 F).

Transit authorities shut the doors into subway stations to prevent overcrowding and one official told a Reuters reporter at the scene that all efforts were being made to "get people out of the subways right now."

"There's no power but they're safe," said a transit official.

At a busy downtown intersection, a businesswoman stood in the middle of the street directing traffic as cars bogged down in gridlock.

The blackout hit just as commuters headed home and that left thousands milling about downtown streets. A witness described the scene as "pretty chaotic."

"You can't work without power. You can't work, you can't see," said accountant Scott Laskey.

A spokesman in Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman's office said the city is setting up an emergency command center.

"We're still gathering information at this point, but there's 2.5 million people that have to get home from work," Scott Magnish said.

Both the Toronto Stock Exchange, the country's main bourse, and Pearson International Airport were operating on back-up power supplies.

Power was still on in Montreal and most of Quebec. A spokesman for Montreal's Dorval airport said all flights to blackout cities have been canceled, including Toronto.

The power outage, which happened minutes after 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT), also hit the Canadian capital, Ottawa. An official at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa said the central bank was monitoring developments.

"We're just assessing the situation but it happened after the market shut down so we don't envisage much impact on the dollar. There are safeguards in place," the official said.

The massive power outage also swept across swaths of the eastern United States, leaving sections of New York City, Detroit and Cleveland without electricity, witnesses said.

Cause of the outage is not yet known, though there have been indications it may have originated in the Niagara Falls region.

In Toronto, a spokesman at Ontario Power Generation said the utility had no information as to the cause of the outage.

August 14th, 2003, 06:09 PM
Dollar slips after power blackouts hit eastern US
Reuters, 08.14.03, 4:51 PM ET

NEW YORK, Aug 14 (Reuters) - The dollar slipped against the euro and the yen on Thursday in choppy trade after power outages struck parts of New York and elsewhere in the east coast region.
Shortly after 4:00 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) the dollar moved lower, with the euro <EUR=> rising to $1.1286 from around $1.1245 just before the power went out in Times Square, New York. Against the yen <JPY=>, the dollar fell to 118.90 yen from around 119.10 yen prior to the blackout.
Witnesses reported power outages in New York, Detroit, Cleveland, parts of New Jersey, Toronto and Ottawa.
Backup generators enabled some investment banks' forex desks to continue trading. At Barclays Capital in New York, one global market strategist said trading systems were still functioning in spite of the power outage.
Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service

August 14th, 2003, 06:22 PM
Pretty lonely here, I am the only member aboard. *I hope you are all enjoying your perishable foodstuffs in safety.

August 14th, 2003, 07:04 PM
My neighbors are helping us dispose of our very perishable beer.

Eerily quiet and very relaxing.

I wonder if this computer has a hand crank.

Freedom Tower
August 14th, 2003, 09:52 PM
Its amazing this site is still up. I just checked now. Even here in NJ many places are without power. My friend got stuck in Hoboken coming to NJ from Manhattan and I had to go pick him up.

August 14th, 2003, 09:53 PM
NY Times...



Passengers on the downtown A train were stuck underground for two hours before being led out by MTA employees


Transit workers escorted riders off a subway car on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.


Pedestrians clogged the Brooklyn Bridge as the power outage brought life to a standstill


The whole of the city was dark and the setting sun painted one building.

Freedom Tower
August 14th, 2003, 09:54 PM
Hey Zippy your power is out but your computer is working??? I don't understand. Is it battery backup or a laptop or something?

Freedom Tower
August 14th, 2003, 09:58 PM
"He also suggested people turn off their electrical appliances to avoid a massive rush for power once electricity returned. Bloomberg said water is pumped to high rise buildings through electrical pumps so many upper floors may not have water for a while."

If they have a water tower on top of their building filled with water they should have no problem right?

Freedom Tower
August 14th, 2003, 09:59 PM
My friend who works in Manhattan was in his office building when the power went out. When everyone looked outside there was black smoke from all the generators starting up, and some people got scared and thought terrorists struck the building.

August 15th, 2003, 06:05 AM


The subways; a special hell

Blame Canada

August 15th, 2003, 06:48 AM

August 15, 2003

Power Failure Reveals a Creaky System, Energy Experts Believe


WASHINGTON, Aug. 14 — While energy experts disagreed on the precise cause of today's power blackout, they were in agreement that the extensive failure betrayed the age of the region's transmission system and its failure to keep up with demand.

"We are a major superpower with a third-world electrical grid," said Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who served as energy secretary in the Clinton administration. "Our grid is antiquated. It needs serious modernization."

The power system in the Northeast has long been plagued by inadequate transmission capacity and bottlenecks nationwide, especially in the New York metropolitan area. Most of New York City's and Long Island's power at peak times must be generated in the city and on the Island, because it is physically impossible to transmit that much power into the area along the existing lines.

Bottlenecks limit how much power can be shipped east to west across upstate New York, north to south within New York, and across the Hudson from New Jersey, and attempts to put a major line from Connecticut to Long Island under Long Island Sound have been thwarted for years.

"We've got excess power in upstate New York, but there's no way to get it to New York City because of the bottlenecks," said Denise VanBuren, vice president of Central Hudson Gas & Electric, which supplies power to eight counties north of New York City. "It's very difficult in this economy to get financing for a major transmission line, and we've been concerned for a long time about the region's transmission capacity."

With only a limited number of high-voltage lines, a power failure can spread more quickly when generators try to send their power to areas that need it, overloading the lines that remain.

"If there had been more lines available at the time this event occurred, it's possible they could have absorbed the load and kept the failure from spreading," said Jack Hawks, vice president for planning of the Electric Power Supply Association, a trade association of generators.

The office of the Canadian prime minister, Jean Chrétien, initially said the failure originated in a fire in a Con Edison power plant near Niagara Falls on the American side, possibly caused by a lightning strike. Later, the office withdrew that statement. Con Edison has no plants in the area, and an official of the state's power grid said he believed that the event began with a lightning strike to a Canadian power line. "As of right now, we don't believe the problem originated in New York," said Matthew Melewski, spokesman for the New York Independent System Operator, the consortium of power companies and state officials who manage the grid.

The Canadian cabinet minister in charge of emergency preparedness, John MacCallum, said tonight that the power failure originated at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He did not explain his remarks.

The problem of preventing such power failures has been that, for the most part, no one has an incentive to invest billions of dollars in new wires, new towers and new transformers. The old utilities have sold off their power plants but still hold a highly regulated monopoly on the network of lines, and they would only invest in new transmission if state regulators would guarantee them rate increases to pay for it.

That is the last thing the regulators, who deregulated much of the industry in hopes of lowering rates, would be willing to do. The entrepreneurial power companies that have bought up power plants have decided against building new transmission lines that would compete with existing ones, possibly driving down transmission charges, and would, at most times, be nothing more than "excess capacity."

Analysts said additional disruptions are quite likely as the economy begins to strengthen and demand for electricity increases.

"If the economy grows at 3.5 percent a year for the next several years, I would not be surprised if we don't have interruptions on a scale that is not acceptable to most Americans," said Irwin Stelzer, director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, a conservative research institute.

For several years, demand for power in the metropolitan area — in fact, much of the Northeast — has reached perilously close to the ability of existing plants to produce it. Experts have warned for years that at periods of peak demand, the failure of a single major power line could cause a blackout. So desperate was the Pataki administration to ensure adequate supply that it ordered 10 small generators installed around the city in 2001, over fierce opposition, to increase the available power.

After deregulation in the late 1990's, there was a burst of interest from many power companies in building new plants, but the collapse of Enron and the markets it had pioneered dried up much of the capital for such investments, and the recession curbed demand slightly. As a result, decisions on nearly all the plants proposed for New York City and surrounding areas are being delayed.

In promoting deregulation in the 1990's, advocates had visions of vast waves of electrons being wheeled around the country on short notice, from producers to distributors to consumers, in rapid, highly efficient response to shifting supply and demand. In reality, the transmission system limits the ability to do that, especially when it comes to pushing power into and out of some major urban areas.

In New York, state officials and power industry executives have talked for years of the need to build new transmission capacity so power could be moved from one area to another more reliably and in larger volumes.

The North American Electric Reliability Council, which was set up by the utility industry after the blackout of 1965 to reduce the likelihood of cascading failures, said power problems were felt today throughout the eastern interconnection, which is most of the North American electric grid east of the Mississippi River. The South was unaffected by the event; the areas chiefly affected were around the Great Lakes, New York City, northern New Jersey and parts of New England, the council said.

Earlier this year, the council issued its annual summer reliability assessment of the supply of electricity, and concluded that the nation should have adequate resources. It warned of possible problems, particularly around New York City, if power generation should fall or if extreme weather produced unusual demand.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the blackout today caused seven nuclear power plants in New York and New Jersey and two in the Midwest to shut down automatically.

The power plants feed electricity out into the wider grid of transmission wires, but they run their systems on power pulled back in from that grid. When there is a disruption in that incoming power, the plants automatically shut down their reactors and switch to diesel-fueled backup generators.

The nuclear plants cannot be turned back on until the rest of the grid has power produced by other plants running on coal, gas or other fuels, said Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the regulatory commission in its headquarters in Rockville, Md.

"The grid would have to be stabilized to the point where the nuclear plants were receiving a steady flow of offsite power before they could come back," he said.

Such shutdowns are a normal response to a power disruption and do not raise risks of radiation releases or other problems, federal nuclear regulatory officials said.

The backup generators support vital systems like coolant pumps and security cameras. They must have sufficient fuel to run for seven days, said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group that studies nuclear safety issues.

The generators are tested frequently because if one were to fail, leading to a complete blackout at a nuclear plant, the nuclear fuel could overheat dangerously. "A complete blackout at a nuclear plant can be one of the most severe precursors of a serious accident," Mr. Lyman said.

Mike Clendenin, a spokesman for Con Edison, said that power was restored to substantial portions of the southern Bronx and Westchester County beginning about 8:30 p.m. But he said the restoration process was not an easy one.

"Plants shut down, or go on standby, more or less automatically in a situation like this, to avoid pumping excess power into the grid that has nowhere to go," he said. "Then, when they come back on line, it isn't just a matter of flipping a switch. It can take hours to make sure equipment is O.K."

Neela Banerjee, Kenneth N. Gilpin, Carl Hulse, Christopher Marquis, Andrew Revkin and Matthew L. Wald contributed to this article.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

August 15th, 2003, 12:06 PM
Stock Market Survives Blackout and Opens for Trading

With Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg ringing the opening bell, the New York Stock Exchange opened on time this morning despite the biggest blackout in the nation's history.

The Nasdaq Stock Market also began trading at 9:30 a.m., but trading was delayed on the American Stock Exchange because of power problems.

Investors' initial reaction was muted, with prices showing little change.

Mr. Bloomberg was accompanied to the Big Board's podium by Richard A. Grasso, the exchange's chairman, and the mayor thanked the assembled traders for "proving once again that New York is the financial capital of the world, and people can always depend on the markets here."

Trading volume is expected to be light throughout the day, as Mr. Bloomberg has urged people to stay home from work if they can, and a large portion of the mass transit system that serves Manhattan is still not operating because of a lack of electricity.

Moreover, a fair number of traders are away for summer holidays anyway.

"It's summer day in August, and a summer day in August is not normal," a Big Board spokesman said. "It appears to be business as usual."

Power was restored to the Wall Street area around 6 a.m. But New York Stock Exchange officials had said they would have been able to resume trading even without electricity in downtown Manhattan, since they have backup generators. Those generators ran throughout the night to keep the exchange's computers going.

In the first half hour of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 1.19 points, to 9,309.37. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index was down 1.70 points, to 988.81. And the Nasdaq composite index was down 1.90 points, to 1,698.44.

Overseas, stocks markets in Britain, France and Germany showed marginal change ahead of the opening in New York. Stocks in Tokyo finished slightly lower after an initial surge. Other Asian markets were also subdued.

For the nation's financial markets, Thursday's blackout could have come at a much worse time. It happened just minutes after the end of a slow summer trading day, leaving traders and the stock market more than 16 hours to regroup and reopen this morning.

The biggest brokerage houses on Wall Street reported no significant problems. Several said that their backup power systems had kicked on almost immediately, allowing them to continue processing the day's trades and to settle their books.

The New York Stock Exchange canceled its two, brief after-hours trading sessions on Thursday during which orders to buy and sell stocks are matched up at the day's closing prices. A spokesman for the exchange, Ray Pellecchia, said no data had been lost because of the blackout.

After-hours electronic trading in stocks on the Nasdaq Stock Market was not interrupted on Thursday, said a spokesman for Charles Schwab, a brokerage firm based in San Francisco. He said that Schwab's traders in Jersey City, N.J., had continued operating on back-up power for the first 90 minutes of the outage.

Schwab, however, called off trading in American stocks for the day at 5:45 p.m. Eastern time, more than two hours before the usual 8 p.m. closing, so that the firm could concentrate on processing the trades it had already handled.

The giant, curved billboard wrapped around the Nasdaq's Marketsite in Times Square continued to show a blank face to tourists passing through Times Square this morning.

August 15th, 2003, 02:05 PM
Eh. A nice diversion, if a bit hot.

August 15th, 2003, 09:33 PM
Arrrrg. I was in the last place to get power in Manhattan (East Side). I wouldn't have minded being last... It's the 26 hours that got me mad.:(

August 15th, 2003, 10:10 PM
You guys (New Yorkers) went through this wonderfully.

I suppose any large city's inhabitants would have had to work through a time like this.

I remember once power was lost for a few blocks in the area where I work in Chicago, just north of the Loop, and no one dared cross the streets that did not have any working traffic signals. It was like those scenes from that movie with Stallone- I think it was call "Death Race".

August 15th, 2003, 10:33 PM
I heard people talking about that movie where I work.

Freedom Tower
August 16th, 2003, 10:03 AM
Thank god, all of NYCs power is back. But it is still out in some other areas.

Northeast Recovering From Major Blackout
29 minutes ago *Add U.S. National - AP to My Yahoo!

By LARRY McSHANE, Associated Press Writer

Air conditioners were humming Saturday and lights blazed again across most of the Northeast following the worst blackout in U.S. history, though getting electricity back didn't help those in Cleveland enjoy clean tap water, and some regions were still experiencing rolling blackouts.

After a 32-hour shutdown, the nation's largest subway system began rolling again in New York at midnight. And in Michigan, where auto plants were paralyzed and officials had warned power could be out through the weekend, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said electricity had been restored to just about everyone — but she still urged residents to conserve.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Granholm said Saturday. "If people don't conserve, we will have rolling blackouts."

Across the region, lingering affects of Thursday's dramatic power outage stretched into Saturday as millions struggled with both the mundane — resetting VCR clocks — to the life-threatening — boiling tap water to ensure potability.

In Cleveland, about 50 members of the National Guard helped distribute 7,600 gallons of drinking water. Residents there and in Detroit, where water pressure was low, were told to boil water before drinking or cooking with it.

Officials still hadn't pinpointed the source of the massive outage that appeared to have started in the Midwest and spread through eight states and Canada. Canada and the United States formed a joint task force Friday to investigate and determine how to prevent it from happening again.

Nora Mead Brownell, a commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (news - web sites), said Saturday that it was clear the power grid needs work.

"Regardless of what the root cause was, it was clearly exacerbated by a system that is unable to support today's economy," she told NBC's "Today" show.

New Yorkers and virtually all the 1.4 million Ohioans who lost power were back on line Saturday, as well as an estimated 2.3 million customers in Michigan.

But still, some customers in the Cleveland area, upstate New York and New York City were dealing with the unkindest cut of all: Their power, restored, was turned off again due to rolling blackouts needed to conserve electricity.

The call for conservation echoed across each state affected by the blackout.

"If you don't turn them off, they will go off," said Long Island Power Authority Chairman Richard Kessel.

Chris Bowen, 47, of Syracuse, N.Y., said he and his family would try to heed the plea. "We'll probably leave the air conditioner off tonight when we go to sleep. We played cards by candlelight last night and it was fun. Maybe we'll do that again."

President Bush (news - web sites), during a tour of a California national park, said part of the problem was "an antiquated system" to distribute electricity nationally. "It's a wake-up call," he said.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he received a call from Bush offering congratulations on the city's handling of the crisis. Crime in the city was actually down compared to an average evening, and the looting that had marked the city's notorious 1977 blackout didn't appear.

The New York City Council finance office estimated the blackout cost the city up to $750 million in lost revenue — up to $40 million in lost tax revenue and up to $10 million in overtime pay for the first 24 hours.

Despite plunging several of the nation's largest cities into darkness, the outage resulted in few reports of vandalism or increased violence.


There were at least three U.S. fatalities. In New York fires, a 6-year-old was killed and a 40-year-old man suffered a heart attack. A 42-year-old woman in Connecticut died in a blaze sparked by a candle. Her husband and 10-year-old son were badly burned.

In Canada's capital of Ottawa, police reported 23 cases of looting, along with two deaths possibly linked to the blackout — a pedestrian hit by a car and a fire victim.

More than 50 assembly and other plants in Canada, Ohio and Michigan operated by General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group were affected, leaving tens of thousands of workers idle.

The restored power also left people wondering whether meat in the now-warm freezer was still good. "The sniff test is probably the most effective. When in doubt, throw it out," said Tom Heinen, co-owner of a chain of 15 Ohio supermarkets.

As for the cause of the outage, which happened almost instantaneously across the Northeast at 4:11 p.m. EDT Thursday, officials remained in the dark.

Investigators focused on a massive electrical grid that encircles Lake Erie, moving power from New York to the Detroit area, Canada and back to New York state. There had been problems with the transmission loop in the past, officials said.

A young Connecticut couple, meanwhile, was enjoying an addition to their family. They made their way through chaotic streets Thursday to Greenwich Hospital to have their first baby.

The hospital managed the delivery with the help of generators.

"Everyone keeps saying you'll remember where you were on the outage of 2003," said Dan O'Neill, whose wife, Kara, gave birth to a healthy baby boy early Friday morning. "It was a blackout and he has one of the blackest heads of hair I've ever seen."

Freedom Tower
August 16th, 2003, 10:36 AM
Warnings long ignored on aging electric system
By David Firestone and Andrew C. Revkin
The New York Times

WASHINGTON, August 15 -- For years, the nation's electrical engineers and planners have warned that the North American system of transmitting electricity was becoming the orphan of the digital era, approaching a serious failure if not significantly upgraded.

For the most part, however, their pleas to improve the system have been ignored, mired in political and regional disputes, or caught up in debates about regulating private industry. As a result, experts said today, improvements that might have prevented the largest blackout in American history have stalled.

"This outage will cost consumers millions of dollars, and it would have been far less expensive if we had just made the system robust enough to meet their needs," said Peggy Welsh, senior vice president of the Consumer Energy Council of America, a research group that represents residential and business consumers of power. "We have a system built 50 years ago for an analog society, and it can't handle the demands of a digital society."

It was five years ago that a federal task force of prominent experts warned the Department of Energy that the reliability of the electrical system was based on a mishmash of voluntary standards, and that Washington needed to impose mandatory rules on the electric industry.

"Failure to act," the task force wrote, "will leave substantial parts of North America at unacceptable risk." Its report was written at the Energy Department's request by prominent engineers and policy makers.

As recently as last month, however, the Energy Department was saying exactly the same thing. While electricity demand has shot up by 25 percent since 1990, construction of transmission systems has declined by 30 percent, the department said.

"The nation's aging electromechanical electric grid cannot keep pace with innovations in the digital information and telecommunications network," the department said in a report that called for massive investment by the industry and government in a new system by 2030. "Power outages and power quality disturbances cost the economy billions of dollars annually. America needs an electric superhighway to support our information superhighway."

Standards for a more reliable system were not opposed by the industry, and were included in an energy bill that came before Congress in 2001. The bill never passed because of disputes over matters like drilling in the Alaskan wilderness and efficiency standards for cars. Such disputes are holding up a similar bill that is pending in Congress.

The exact reason why a single failure in the Midwest on Thursday afternoon led to a disastrous cascade of blackouts has still not been determined. Industry officials said that an elaborate set of rules and procedures has been developed to allow one regional system to automatically cut itself off from others when a failure occurs. Those rules are voluntary, however, and are followed to different extents by different regions.

The 1998 task force on electricity reliability recommended that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission be given legal authority to impose rules on the industry. It also said that several newly developed technologies were available to prevent single failures from expanding into widespread blackouts, if utilities could be persuaded to invest in them.

The commission, however, was never given the authority to impose rules on the industry by Congress, and few utilities have made significant investments in their transmission systems. Philip Sharp, a former Indiana congressman and Harvard lecturer on energy policy who headed the 1998 task force, said that deregulation had led to a patchwork of rules that gave some companies an incentive to improve their systems but discouraged others. "There's a crazy-quilt system of rules that govern markets in different parts of the country," he said. "It shapes what people invest in, and whether they will make upgrades in their transmission systems and get their power plants online. It's foolish not to have a system in place that could reduce our risk for these kinds of events."

Experts also said that energy deregulation, which has been at the heart of most disputes over the future of power in this country, has produced great strains on the system even at times when demand has not reached its peak by providing incentives to build more generating plants without encouraging the building of transmission systems. In the days of regulation, a company would recoup its investment in a generator through rates set by a state commission. Now, private companies make money on generators by selling power, giving them an incentive to produce more than transmission facilities can handle, some experts say.

"Since deregulation, people have been pushing the system too hard," said Dr. Richard Rosen, a utility planning expert at the Tellus Institute, a research group in Boston. "They tend to overload it to too great an extent. Instead of loading lines to close to 100 percent, there needs to be some extra room allowed for problems."

The strain on transmission capacity is particularly acute in New York State, which is known in the industry for having far too few high-voltage power lines. A report issued this spring by the New York Independent System Operator, which manages the state's power grid, said the state's reliability rules were developed to respond to the blackouts of 1965 and 1977, and have not been changed since then. "New York has stayed just ahead of potential reliability problems for the past three years by utilizing some stopgap measures and by driving the existing electrical infrastructure harder and harder," the report said.

Among other factors, community resistance to new lines has been high and continues to prevent new lines from being built, particularly in high-density areas like the northeast. While the federal government can step in and insist on construction of natural gas pipelines, it has no such power related to electrical transmission lines. "People want more power, but they don't want those lines," said Stephen Floyd, a nuclear engineer and a vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Washington lobby for the nuclear-power industry. "Something's got to give sometime, because the system is really reaching its capacity in terms of what you'd like to have for a margin of safety."

One top power company executive in New York State said that some of the state's biggest power producers actually prefer an inadequate transmission system, because it gives them a captive market and the ability to charge more. At the same time, he said, state regulatory officials have no interest in taking the political heat from community residents for approving new lines. Other states, like Texas and Virginia, routinely approve new transmission systems to go with generators, he said.

Better conservation is another way to reduce the load on power systems, but when deregulation divided the power industry between generators and purveyors of electricity, it also reduced the incentive for utilities to entice customers to conserve, many energy experts said.

Now, in deregulated states, plant owners tend to focus on supplying the most profitable electricity — produced during periods of peak demand — while owners of distribution systems, experts say, have to pare costs and keep cables and other equipment running.

Other energy experts say there are many effective ways to insure stability, mostly involving either distributing the generation of power so that less needs to flow long distances or reducing electricity use, particularly in peak periods. "This event underscores the need to reduce the overload on the system, and there are other ways to do it besides building new transmission capacity," said Ralph Cavanagh, energy program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. "There are elegant ways of doing it, such as electronic controls that allow the system to carry more power safely, or increasing standards for efficiency of air conditioners, which consume a third of the peak demand. The challenge is picking the best solution."

David Firestone and Andrew C. Revkin write for The New York Times.

TLOZ Link5
August 16th, 2003, 12:54 PM
We all made it through all right. *I live on the 16th floor of an apartment building, so you can imagine what it's like negotiating pitch-black stairwells. *There are a lot of eldery people in my building, also. *Luckily I had a flashlight with a built-in transistor radio, so we could listen to the news.

There were huge block parties on Second Avenue. *People spilling out onto the streets having a grand old time; there was even a guy playing bagpipes. *My dad had to walk down 60 flights of stairs at work in the GE Building, but he was back at work the next day. *My mom was stuck on MetroNorth and didn't get home until about 8:00. *I'm surprised that people stayed so calm—some even enjoyed themselves.

They pumped water to the tank at the top of my building, so we had water for a few hours that afternoon; I was able to take a nice shower, albeit in the dark. *As for my perishable goods, they're all fine. *We have the world's best refrigerator; when the power came back on there was still ice in the freezer. *But I had a can of tunafish for dinner on Thursday and tortilla chips and a bottle of Vitamin Water for breakfast next morning.

How did you guys do?

August 16th, 2003, 01:41 PM
At about 4 PM, I was downloading photos from my camera. Computer has a Smart Media slot, but instead of using the generic SM card, I loaded the factory Olympus card which the computer couldn't read. I removed and reinserted the card, and at that instant, everything turned off except the computer (on battery backup). For a few seconds, I wondered how that little card blew every circuit breaker in the apartment.

Many folks around here have a go bag, portable radio, flashlight, stuff like that. I knew the water would only last a few hours, so I filled bottles and put them in the freezer. We were going food-shopping that day, so not much food to spoil.

Spent the evening until 2AM outside with neighbors. Actually had a great time.

I've posted on other topics that the fiscal crisis, while similar to that of the '70s in numbers, is much different in attitude. A comparison of the 2 power failures might be proof of that.

August 16th, 2003, 02:13 PM

"heres a pic from where i work. jersey city this morning. sunrise. was in very early to support."

Source (http://www.dslreports.com/forum/remark,7688084~root=newyork~mode=flat#7688943)

August 18th, 2003, 11:34 AM
I was on an ELEVATOR in NEWARK when the lights went out, though within a minute the backup power brought us to a floor and I descended by stairs. It was a long minute, to say the least.

It took me six hours to get home from there. After waiting in a drenched shirt, I eventually caught a bus to the GW Bridge - the only place buses from out of town could go - and along with thousands of people, tried to get home from there. It was a long walk downtown, but cabs were useless, trains weren't working, and city buses were random. I finally caught a bus on 134th St. that took me to midtown, and then one from there downtown. The bus was armpit-mania, though most of the riders were bearing it well. The city looked so bizarre with darkened skyscrapers and stars above.

When I got off the bus on 8th and Broadway the mood was completely different. People were partying! Throughout the Village and SoHo just about every bar was in full swing, and the pizza places were doing very good business (though it must have been 1000 degrees in the one I went in). Everyone was outside - too hot to be inside. Washington Sq. Park was loud with percussion, cheering, and laughter. On my block, the bar across the street had more people than they ever get, mostly out on the sidewalk and street, a real block party. It was brightly candle-lit with boom-box music and well iced beers. They had the grills going, and people from the neighborhood were bringing their thawing meat from their freezers down to barbecue.

The first six hours sucked, but after that it was one of the most fun and (obviously) memorable nights I've had in the city. The next morning it got old again - waking up without power. Power came back on at around 2:00 in my neighborhood - you could hear cheering everywhere, even the church bells rang.

Saturday night at 10:00 my power went out again - just my block. I didn't get home until 2am that night, but the neighbors I met two nights before were, this time, not partying. It was supposedly not related to the big blackout, and ConEd was there changing a cable until 4am. Luckily that bar across the street was open for the duration! I had promised myself to be better equipped for the next blackout, but hadn't actually gotten around to buying more batteries and candles before they went out the second time. I finally took care of it yesterday. God I love electricity!

August 18th, 2003, 12:07 PM
The climb up to my 35th floor apartment was quite a workout. *But as a reward, I got to take several pictures of downtown during the blackout. *I'll try to post them when I download them from my camera.

The water tank on our roof supplied water for several hours, but, of course, the building staff neglected to tell the tenants to conserve water, so many people took showers and water ran out by Thursday evening.

The trek down on Friday morning was probably the most exciting experience of the whole blackout, since I didn't have a flashlight, and the stairway was pitch black the whole way down.

All in all, I think the blackout was positive for me. *I got Friday off from work, exercise from all the walking I did, and some pretty nice pictures of the whole thing.