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The Nation

Ohio Utility Faulted in Blackout

The investigators' final report says FirstEnergy could have prevented the huge Aug. 14 outage.

April 06, 2004|From Newsday

WASHINGTON — Investigators released their final report on the Aug. 14 blackout Monday and said that Ohio utility FirstEnergy Corp. could have prevented the largest outage in North American history by 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.

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

In a conference call with reporters Monday, Allison Silverstein, an advisor 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.

"We think the blackout would not have occurred," Silverstein said, "that it would have been a local Ohio problem" if FirstEnergy had disconnected that demand -- a standard tactic when the grid becomes unstable.

The problems in FirstEnergy's service territory developed over more than an hour, as a series of the company's high-voltage transmission lines tripped out of service. The disturbance spread 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 own system.

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