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U.S., Canadian Officials Open Probe of Blackout

August 21, 2003|From Associated Press

DETROIT — In their first face-to-face talks since the big blackout, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and his Canadian counterpart, Herb Dhaliwal, vowed Wednesday to quickly determine the cause of the outage and prevent it from happening again.

"One of the things that we hope is that we can learn from what happened," Abraham said of the joint task force. "Not just to make these recommendations ... but also to identify the kinds of challenges we're going to have in the future."

After the hourlong meeting with Dhaliwal, Canada's minister of Natural Resources, Abraham declined to speculate on the cause of the outage that blacked out parts of eight states and Canada. Tens of millions of people were left without power in the worst blackout in U.S. history.

Abraham stopped in Ohio earlier Wednesday to update state and utility officials. "It's important, obviously, that we withhold judgment until all the facts are in," he said in Columbus.

He said early attempts by Canada and the United States to blame the blackout on each other would not affect his work with Dhaliwal. They are co-chairs of the task force on the outage.

A fact-finding phase of the task force will focus on what caused the outage and why the electrical system wasn't able to stop it. The second phase will include making recommendations on how to prevent outages.

"The reliability of the system is paramount," said Dhaliwal. "Understanding the complex chain of events that led to the recent power outage is a challenging task."

Experts studying the blackout have pointed to a series of small failures on the northeast Ohio power grid owned by FirstEnergy Corp. that may have combined to unleash a huge wave of destructive electricity.

FirstEnergy warned Wednesday that rolling blackouts may be needed in the greater Cleveland area.

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