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Black-Out in NEW YORK

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BLACK OUT IN NEW YORK AND CANADA

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Learning From the Blackout
A lot went right, but much remains to be done
Last week's electricity blackout may have been the worst in North American history. But it taught several important lessons:
• The training and planning of government officials at all levels since 9/11 paid off. In Washington, officials at the Department of Homeland Security manned their phones and soon determined the power outage was not a terrorist act. They quickly put the word out, helping calm the public. Before the situation became clear, F-16 fighter jets were quickly sent aloft to patrol the East Coast, just in case.
   

   
 
State and local officials evacuated skyscrapers and subways, called in off-duty police officers, rerouted traffic, and issued public advisories about drinking water. In many cases, officials from neighboring jurisdictions were in the same room when crucial decisions were made, ensuring better communication at the top.
Gaps in preparedness were still evident here and there. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Verizon pledged to get to the bottom of a few temporary failures of the city's emergency dispatch system. And no level of government should rest on its laurels. There is still work to do.
• The public is better prepared for such disruptions than in the past. In New York's 1977 blackout, it didn't take long for looting and arson to break out. Not this time. New Yorkers, many of whom had vivid memories of that September day almost two years ago, calmly did what they had to do: walked miles home, slept at offices, spent the night on the street. Detroit, Cleveland, and other cities in the afflicted region - often facing worse situations than New York City - reported calm, with no spike in crime. Instead, neighbors pulled together, as they do when one of the Great Lakes region's notorious snowstorms strikes. The public's mental preparedness made all the difference.
Now citizens must cooperate in conserving energy wherever possible over the next few days, until the electrical grid is back to normal capacity.
Given the water problems that struck several Midwestern cities, people should stock more bottled water in the future. And sales of portable generators are likely to rise.
• Politicians should hold their fire until the cause is clear. The quick finger-pointing by Canadian and American officials was unseemly. Canadians claimed a lightning strike in New York. Americans blamed a failure north of the border. Mouths on both sides have spouted too much of this cross-border vaudeville of late.
Officials still do not know the cause of the blackout, although Michehl Gent of the North American Electric Reliability Council says the initial power failures occurred in Ohio. That doesn't explain, however, how they overwhelmed safety systems and ricocheted through the grid, around Lake Erie and into New York. A joint US-Canadian team will investigate.
At the same time, safety systems did finally stop the runaway failures, which spared Boston, Providence, Quebec, and the Mid-Atlantic region. Nuclear power plants in affected areas shut themselves down without incident.
• The US must invest more in electrical infrastructure to meet the growing demand for electricity. Outdated equipment may or may not have played a role in this drama, but the nation has too few generating plants and too few transmission lines to meet the need. Like it or not, the US population and consumer demand continue to grow - think of all those desktop computers that weren't there 20 years ago.
Yet the public shares a large portion of the blame for the current situation. Environmentalists and not-in-my-backyard groups ensnare in lawsuits any effort to build modern new generating plants and transmission lines - delaying them for years and adding to the costs. This drives away power companies and investors.
Then there's the argument over which kind of energy generation is "safest." People can find a reason to object to any fuel: Coal is too dirty; oil too politically risky; natural gas insufficient; nuclear power too dangerous; wind power too ugly, solar power too expensive. Power lines are unsightly.
In this environment, something has to give. Last Thursday between 3 and 4:30 p.m., something did.
A revised legal infrastructure is needed to help prevent a recurrence. In Washington, the House and Senate have passed competing energy bills. They must waste no time this fall in hammering out a law that addresses the problems the blackout uncovered.
The largest power blackout in North American history prompted new calls yesterday for overhauling the U.S. electricity system. Investigators said the power disruptions likely began in the Midwest but they have yet to pinpoint the cause.
They are now focusing on a massive electrical grid that encircles Lake Erie, moving power from New York to the Detroit area, into Canada and back to New York state. There had been problems with the transmission loop in the past, officials said.
The head of the North American Reliability Council, who earlier said northern Ohio may have been the flashpoint, later backed way from reaching any conclusion "until we're absolutely certain.''
"We had some indication that the first transmission lines that were tripped were in the Midwest . . .We're not certain that is where it started,'' said Michehl Gent, president of NERC, an industry sponsored group that tracks power grids to assure their reliability.
At a news conference, Gent provided a picture of the enormity of the blackout that began Thursday at 4:11 p.m. and raced from New England to Michigan and southeastern Canada.
He said more than 100 power plants -- including 22 nuclear reactors in the United States and Canada -- were shut down, and the blackout affected 50 million people over a 24,000-square-kilometre area from New England to Michigan.
He said a preliminary determination of the cause of the cascading power disruption, which raced through the system in less than 10 seconds, may not be available until next week and more detailed investigations could last months.
"We never anticipated we would have a cascading outage'' like this, said Gent, adding that he was "personally embarrassed'' because his organization is supposed "to see that this doesn't happen.''
While NERC closely watches grid reliability, it has no power to force transmission companies to comply with standards or correct violations.
Some in Congress have urged creation of an agency that would have industry police power. The issue is likely to be debated next month when legislators consider energy laws.
Gent said the investigation could find that someone violated industry standards or that the standards are not adequate. He ruled out completely reports of a lightning strike or a fire in a New York City facility and said weather appeared to have not been a factor in the blackout.
He said electricity capacity was adequate when the blackout hit. The investigation is focusing on "the Lake Erie Loop,'' a massive transmission system that goes through New York state south of the Great Lakes to Detroit and then up through Canada, down by Niagara Falls, back to New York, said Gent.
"That's the centre of the focus. This has been a problem for years and there have been all sorts of plans to make it more reliable,'' he said.
At one point, 300 megawatts of power were travelling east on the loop and suddenly reversed direction, resulting in an estimated 500 megawatts suddenly moving west, he said. It was uncertain what caused the sudden shift.
The focus on Ohio earlier had been criticized by Ohio officials.
The chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, Alan Schriber, called it "speculation at best'' and said industry experts he contacted Friday continued to focus attention on Canada and upstate New York.
And a private company that monitors the grid said its technology showed the problem started in Michigan. "That was the epicentre,'' insisted David Trungale, vice-president of SoftSwitching Technologies Inc., of Middleton, Wis.
One reason it may be so difficult to pinpoint the cause is the speed in which the cascading outages raced across the Northeast and Ohio Valley as well as southeastern Canada.
President George W. Bush promised a review of "why the cascade was so significant, why it was able to ripple so significantly throughout our system.''
HUGE FLUCTUATIONS
William Museler, president of the New York Independent System Operator, which manages the state's electric grid, said "huge'' power fluctuations originating from a Midwest power plant started the downfall of the grid at 4:11 p.m. Thursday. He said the power swings became so large that the Ontario system could not sustain them, and the problem migrated to New York.
As the power fluctuated, generators in New York tripped off to protect themselves, an act of self-preservation that made it possible to restore power yesterday morning, Museler said.
The Energy Department, meanwhile, ordered the activation of a special power cable linking Connecticut and Long Island to ease the movement of electricity in the New York City area as power was being restored.
Electricity was back on in virtually all of upstate New York yesterday, while the New York City metropolitan area was beginning to get its power restored after a massive blackout, Gov. George Pataki said.
"The power has been restored to the vast majority of the state geographically,'' Pataki said at a command centre in Albany, N.Y.
"From everything we saw last night and continue to see this morning, the restoration plan for the state is working very well,'' Museler said.

The largest power blackout in North American history prompted new calls Friday for overhauling the nation's electricity system. Investigators said the power disruptions likely began in the Midwest but they have yet to pinpoint the cause.
Investigators said they are focusing on a massive electrical grid that encircles Lake Erie, moving power from New York to the Detroit area, into Canada and back to New York state. There had been problems with the transmission loop in the past, officials said.
The head of the North American Electric Reliability Council, who earlier said northern Ohio may have been the flashpoint, later backed way from reaching any conclusion "until we're absolutely certain."
"We had some indication that the first transmission lines that were tripped were in the Midwest. .. We're not certain that is where it started," said Michehl Gent, president of the industry sponsored group that tracks power grids to assure their reliability.
The focus on Ohio had been criticized by Ohio officials as "speculation."
At a news conference, Gent provided a picture of the enormity of the blackout that began Thursday at 4:11 p.m. and raced from New England in the Northeast to Michigan and Ohio in the Midwest and southeastern Canada.
He said more than 100 power plants - including 22 nuclear reactors in the United States and Canada - were shut down, and the blackout affected 50 million people over a 9,300-square-mile (23,800-square-kilometer) area from New England to Michigan.
He said a preliminary determination of the cause of the cascading power disruption, which raced through the system in less than 10 seconds, may not be available until next week and more detailed investigations could last months.
"We never anticipated we would have a cascading outage" like this, said Gent, adding that he was "personally embarrassed" because his organization is supposed "to see that this doesn't happen."
While NERC closely watches grid reliability, it has no power to force transmission companies to comply with standards or correct violations.
Some in Congress have urged creation of an agency that would have industry police power. The issue is likely to be debated next month when lawmakers consider energy legislation.
Gent ruled out completely reports of a lightning strike or a fire in a New York City facility and said weather appeared not to have been a factor in the blackout.
He said electricity capacity was adequate when the blackout hit.
The investigation is focusing on "the Lake Erie Loop," a massive transmission system that goes through New York state south of the Great Lakes to Detroit and then up through Canada, down by Niagara Falls, back to New York, said Gent.
"That's the center of the focus. This has been a problem for years and there have been all sorts of plans to make it more reliable," he said.
A private company that monitors the grid said its technology showed the problem started in Michigan. "That was the epicenter," insisted David Trungale, vice president of SoftSwitching Technologies Inc., of Middleton, Wisconsin.
One reason it may be so difficult to pinpoint the cause is the speed in which the cascading outages raced across the Northeast and Ohio Valley as well as southeastern Canada.
Trungale said his company's monitoring stations recorded a power disruption in Connecticut only 2 seconds after the first problem was recorded in Michigan. He declined to describe the Michigan site further.
A spokeswoman for FirstEnergy Corp., whose electricity service area stretches along Lake Erie in Ohio, declined to speculate on the cause of the disruption.


There's a very fundamental reason for the latest blackout on the East Coast.
The United States of America needs more power facilities.
I'm not talking about ten thousand windmills on the coast of Massachusetts or seventy square miles of solar collectors in Vermont. I'm talking about burning coal and using natural gas. I'm talking about hydroelectric plants and, yes, nuclear-based plants.
All of them gloriously producing electricity.
Reality pulled the plug from Ottawa to Detroit, from Toledo to Hartford, from Cleveland to New York City.
Millions of New Yorkers had to walk across the bridges to the other Boroughs to get home. Major cities just flat out shut down. No electricity. No elevator service. No cell phones. No traffic lights.
NO NOTHING!
We live in a technological society that is totally dependent on electricity and it isn't produced by putting forty hamsters on a treadmill.
You have to burn coal. You have to use natural gas. You have to tap rolling water for hydroelectricity. You need to build clean, non-polluting nuclear plants.
Americans, in general, are so dumb they just can't imagine not having enough electricity for everything they need to do.
The reason California experienced so many energy problems was that the stupid Californians would not allow power plants to be built and thought they could just keep buying electricity from Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and even Canada. No!
You can't have a massive immigration surge and not expect to use more damned electricity. It's a commodity and, when it gets scarce, the price goes UP.
There's a reason why California doesn't have enough power plants, nor any other State in this great republic of ours. It's called environmentalism.
It goes something like this; the Environmental Protection Agency is so busy levying huge fines on existing and older power plants that there is no incentive to build new ones.
It goes like this; the stupid attorney generals of Eastern States sue Western ones, blaming them for the air quality and crying, 'We can't get in compliance with the EPA because you people want to heat your homes and stuff."
If that doesn't stop a power plant, there's the old reliable Endangered Species Act or there's wetlands regulations. Or the Greens will run around and say that building a power plant anywhere is unfair to the poor people who may live anywhere near it.
 
Listen up, you dumb Americans!
There are over 280 million of us and all of us, except for those who live in cardboard boxes under a bridge, want to have our air conditioning work in the summer and our furnace work in the winter.
We expect the food in our refrigerator to stay frozen. We expect to turn on our computers, our lights, and, God help us, our television sets.
The latest blackout was a warning that, so long as this nation continues to go along with idiotic and malevolent environmentalists and their lies about darned near everything, we are going to have more and worse blackouts.
Who needs terrorists? Our national security is entirely dependent on safe, reliable and abundant energy.
Maybe 8-14-03 needs to be added to 9-11-01 as a reminder of that? Environmentalists have been attacking the economic and energy base of this nation for decades.
Call it the Californication of America.
For decades this system had worked well. Electricity grids in Canada and the United States, for example, link up at 37 major points so the two countries can trade significant quantities of power. When one utility has a shortage, it simply buys power from a neighboring utility. But this network had also grown a very soft underbelly: an old transmission grid of underground and overhead power lines stuck back in the 1950s and ’60s. Experts knew these ancient cables couldn’t handle the rapid surges of the new power-trading economy. A federal security official told NEWSWEEK that by 9 p.m. Thursday, 80 percent of the generators that had been knocked out during the blackout were running again at capacity—but transmission lines could handle only 20 percent of the output.
      
IS DEREGULATION TO BLAME?
       For years experts have warned of too little investment in a transmission grid that had become more complex than anyone knew. One complicating factor was deregulation. In the 1990s, many utilities were broken up, separating transmission businesses from the generators that produce electricity. Today the system is dominated by independent operators in a market-driven system—and “a broken link between generation planning and transmission planning,” says Steven Taub of Cambridge Energy Research Associates.
No one stepped in to fix the problem, in part because no one operator was directly responsible and could see benefits to building power lines for other regions. Even the public bears some of the blame: no one wants to pay the higher rates demanded by the old utility monopolies. And citizens’ groups have made local approval of new transmission lines very difficult.
        It’s unclear whether Washington can find the way—or has the will—to overhaul the system; as the lights came up, the Bush administration and leading Democrats were too busy with the city’s favorite pastime, the blame game. But they at least achieved consensus in praising the government’s response.
        Homeland Security’s Johndroe called the blackout a “test case” of the system, and the results were in: state and local officials had taken the necessary steps to be prepared for massive emergencies. Department officials gingerly reminded reporters of their widely ridiculed calls for homeowners to stock up on water, duct tape and other provisions. “One of those items was batteries,” a DHS official noted Friday. “Yesterday cell phones didn’t work. So you could listen to the radio.”
YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE LAWS OF PHYSICS’
       Another vexing problem: will there ever be a good way to evacuate New York City? August 14 was also an uncomfortable reminder that whatever threat we’re getting ready for, it may have little to do with what actually happens. Consider: most post-9/11 urban-evacuation plans depend on public transportation, but that went out in a blink last week. Though the mass departure from New York City came off smoothly, if sweatily, “this tells you clearly that it’s very, very difficult to evacuate millions of people in a short period of time,” said James Kallstrom, a former FBI agent in charge of New York who now advises Pataki. “You can’t change the laws of physics.”
        Most important, what really went wrong? On that one, there were plenty of theories to go around. On Friday morning, Mayor Bloomberg asserted, apparently based on information supplied by the power company, that the event had started in Canada. The office of Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in turn, apparently leaked word to media in hard-hit Ottawa that the blackout might have been triggered by a lightning strike on a major transmission line in upstate New York. By Saturday, industry officials were increasingly convinced that the problem that led to the blackout originated somewhere in northeastern Ohio. “We are now trying to determine why this situation was not brought under control after the first three transmission lines relayed out of service,” said Michehl Gent, CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), the agency formed after the last great Northeastern blackout, in 1965, to prevent another such breakdown. Industry sources say they believe the lines Gent was referring to are operated by First Energy, a transmission company based in Akron, Ohio, that has recently faced legal and financial problems. A spokesman for First Energy confirmed that company facilities in northern Ohio had suffered several mishaps during the afternoon of the 14th. These included a tree falling on one of the company’s heavy-duty 345-kilovolt high-tension lines and “tripping off” a generator at a company plant in Eastlake, Ohio. Industry sources said another 345kv line may have been so overloaded with electricity that it sagged into a lower-voltage cable below it on the pylon, shorting out the circuit. (A company spokesman acknowledged that one of its lines could have sagged.) But First Energy spokesman Ralph DiNicola told NEWSWEEK that the company believed its equipment had coped with all these failures, which were “not unusual on a warm summer day.” He said that First Energy “had no indication there was a major problem” until lights began blinking off elsewhere.
Gent and others hope reforms to the grid system may come soon—and that new teeth to enforce the performance demands of operators will be pushed through as part of a giant energy bill now stuck in conference on Capitol Hill. But there are other problems. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wants to give all electricity suppliers equal access to power lines—a plan that’s supposed to give consumers the cheapest electricity available, even if it comes from generators in other regions. But power companies and politicians in the South and West have vigorously opposed the plan, contending that it would force prices higher in their usually low-cost regions.
        To force the power industry to take responsibility for its own system, even some of those allied with the Bush administration who once championed deregulation now say some rethinking is in order. “In the past, those companies had to invest in transmission because it was part of their business model,” says Andrew Lundquist, who served as executive director of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force. “Now they’re uncertain if they are going to own it at all. I’m not saying the deregulated model is bad, but they need certainty. They need to get through this.”
        For power-industry workers like Steve Swan, a 17-year veteran, there wasn’t much time to consider those larger issues last week. On Friday, Swan and his fellow workers, downing pizza slices and Dunkin’ Donuts on the fly, spent all day getting New York’s power grid back online. For Swan, it must have been one of the most fulfilling experiences of his life. But now that he’s been part of history, he may be happy to be just a utility geek again.