View Full Version : New York's Grid Not at Fault in Blackout

March 2nd, 2004, 08:55 AM
March 2, 2004

New York's Grid Not at Fault in Blackout, State Board Says


The New York State power grid performed properly and did not contribute to the blackout on Aug. 14, according to an initial report released yesterday by a state regulatory agency.

The report did not explain why, if the grid functioned properly in New York, the state was nonetheless vulnerable to the largest blackout in North American history, a cascading loss of power that affected millions of people in eight states and Canada.

William M. Flynn, chairman of the state's Public Service Commission, which conducted the review, said in a written statement that there was no evidence of failures in the operation of the grid in New York. He faulted Midwest utilities for hesitating to warn other utilities of the magnitude of the disturbances on Aug. 14.

The report found that New York utilities and regulators had aggressively applied lessons learned from prior blackouts, and it complimented the New York utilities for restoring power within 30 hours. The report also emphasized the need for utilities to explore backup sources of power, citing nearly 346,000 telephone customers who lost dial tones and the inability of many emergency medical personnel to start up their life-saving equipment.

A final version of the report is expected in the next few months. Mr. Flynn said he expected it to include an analysis of the electric system and the state's ability to withstand external power surges.

Assemblyman Paul D. Tonko, a Democrat who represents Schenectady and is chairman of the Energy Committee, said: "I think most people are waiting to see that draft. But for now, I'll say that blaming tree branches in Ohio for putting out the lights on Broadway does not make any sense."

In November, a national panel of government and industry officials found that the blackout had been initiated by a series of human and computer failures at an Ohio power company, FirstEnergy, as untrimmed tree limbs sagged and touched power lines, causing the system to start to fail. The panel also found that the regional agency that was supposed to oversee the Ohio utility had failed to catch the problem early enough and had later violated national regulations in hesitating to alert neighboring power companies to the situation. The panel is expected to release a final and more comprehensive report in the coming months.

The New York report pointed out that utilities in the state functioned under reliability standards that were stricter than those followed by other utilities nationwide. Mr. Flynn also cited the nearly 100 additional guidelines that were imposed on the utility industry after the 1977 blackout.

But Gerald A. Norlander of the Public Utility Law Project, a nonprofit law firm in Albany, said those regulations did not insulate the state from areas where the rules are weaker. "What we need now," he said, "is a blueprint of measures to shield New York from another cascading blackout in the future."

Jack Casazza, a utility analyst and former vice president of Public Service Electric and Gas, also said he doubted that the report sufficiently addressed cascading blackouts. Comparing electric companies to mountain climbers tied together with safety lines, he explained that if one climber slipped, the lines could either prevent a fall or pull everyone down. Had New Jersey and Connecticut not cut themselves off, he said, there were two possibilities: either they would have stabilized New York from falling, or New York would have taken them down with it. The issue needs further study, he said.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

April 6th, 2004, 05:25 PM
New York Newsday
April 6, 2004

Final report: Blackout was preventable


Views of the city from the Brooklyn Bridge after a massive blackout throughout the North East stopped trains and forced New Yorkers on to the streets.

Investigators releasing their final report on the Aug. 14 blackout said yesterday that Ohio utility FirstEnergy could have prevented the largest outage in North American history by purposely disconnecting a piece of its system in the Cleveland area.
FirstEnergy "did not recognize or understand the deteriorating condition of its system," according to the report of the U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, and the controllable problems in Ohio rapidly cascaded into eight Northeast states and Canada at 4:11 p.m. that Thursday.

The report includes 46 recommendations for preventing blackouts. At the top of the list is mandatory reliability rules to replace the voluntary guidelines that currently govern behavior on North America's interconnected energy grid.

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Allison Silverstein, an adviser to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Patrick Wood, said FirstEnergy could have stopped the disturbance in its tracks by cutting 1,500 megawatts of service in northern Ohio, which is about 22 percent of its service at the time.

If FirstEnergy had disconnected that demand - a standard industry tactic when the grid becomes unstable - "we think the blackout would not have occurred," she said.

The problems in FirstEnergy's territory developed over more than an hour, as a series of transmission lines tripped out of service. The disturbance spread quickly to the east when electricity-starved northern Ohio began sucking huge amounts of electricity in a counter-clockwise path around Lake Erie.

Like an interim report released in November, the final version faults FirstEnergy for lacking the ability to properly monitor its system and for failing to trim trees that shorted out sagging power lines.

The investigators also blamed the Midwest Independent System Operator, a nonprofit organization charged with overseeing the reliability of the grid in that region, for its lack of awareness that day.

The final report added one new wrinkle to the analysis by conceding that deregulation of the energy business and the resulting increase in long-distance power trading probably played a role in the blackout.

In 1986, America's investor-owned utilities generated the majority of their own electricity, purchasing just 18 percent from other utilities and independent power producers, the report notes. By 2002, the portion purchased from outside suppliers had grown to 37 percent, the report says, necessitating a dizzying array of power transfers that sometimes span long distances.

Over the same period, the report notes, American electricity demand and generating capacity grew by 26 percent and 22 percent, respectively, while the capacity of transmission wires grew hardly at all.

Final Blackout Report (Acrobat files):

Chapters 1-3 (http://www.nynewsday.com/news/local/manhattan/ny-blackoutrepo0405a,0,7325478.acrobat?coll=nyc-homepage-headlines)
Chapter 4 (http://www.nynewsday.com/news/local/manhattan/ny-blackoutrepo04052,0,4245239.acrobat?coll=nyc-homepage-headlines)
Chapter 5 (http://www.nynewsday.com/news/local/manhattan/ny-blackoutrepo04053,0,4310776.acrobat?coll=nyc-homepage-headlines)
Chapter 6 (http://www.nynewsday.com/news/local/manhattan/ny-blackoutrepo0405d,0,7522089.acrobat?coll=nyc-homepage-headlines)
Chapters 7-10 (http://www.nynewsday.com/news/local/manhattan/ny-blackoutrep0o0405e,0,2361963.acrobat?coll=nyc-homepage-headlines)

Copyright 2004 Newsday, Inc.