Tuesday, August 26, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Outdated technology afflicts the nation’s power grid and it hamstrung efforts to control the spread of this month’s massive blackout, the chief executive of a regional grid manager said.

As transmission lines failed and generating plants went off-line Aug. 14, technicians at its control center north of Indianapolis could only call utilities with advice on how the stop the outage from growing, said James P. Torgerson, chief executive of the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator.

“It’s not very efficient when you have to start calling everybody,” Mr. Torgerson told the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission during an informal hearing Monday to share information on the blackout.

Investigators are studying line failures at Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. to see what role they played in the outage that appeared to have cascaded around the western rim of Lake Erie, into Canada and then the U.S. Northeast. Mr. Torgerson has said Midwest ISO initiated telephone calls to FirstEnergy as the blackout was unfolding.

Since then, Midwest ISO has added data-collection points in FirstEnergy’s territory in northern Ohio to watch voltage flows on the utility’s transmission lines more closely, Mr. Torgerson said.

Akron-based FirstEnergy and another Ohio company at the center of the investigation into the nation’s worst blackout had warned regulators in that state five months ago that problems on the U.S.-Canadian grid could cause their power systems to overload.

FirstEnergy and Columbus-based American Electric Power said in long-term forecasts that widespread outages were possible if the spaghetti-like grid system experienced unexpected changes in electricity flows, power transfers between regions, unexpected demands and extreme weather.

“Together, these factors … may lead to overload conditions,” FirstEnergy said.

Such grid disturbances swept across eight states and the Canadian province of Ontario, spreading the outage to 50 million people.

“Generation is now moving across many states and perhaps many control areas, so the identity of those transactions is not as apparent to the local utility,” said Roger Harszy, director of operations for Midwest ISO. “And I think that makes it more difficult for the local utility to manage that portion of their transmission system.

“I think that’s a key: maybe perhaps not so much the amount of power being moved, although that has increased, but the way it’s being moved,” Mr. Harszy told the Indiana regulators.

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