- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

WEST WINDSOR, N.J. (AP) — Investigators looking for what caused this month’s massive blackout have compiled data from as early as eight hours preceding the start of the outage, but will need weeks to analyze the information, energy officials said yesterday.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham spoke after meeting with the North American Electric Reliability Council to discuss the group’s role in the investigation of the Aug. 14 blackout. A task force made up of U.S. and Canadian representatives, led by Mr. Abraham and Herb Dhaliwal, the minister of Natural Resources Canada, is leading the probe.

Mr. Abraham said investigators are having problems compiling a detailed timeline of the blackout because it spread so quickly. He believes any theories on a cause at this point are premature.

“The facts will lead us to conclusions,” Mr. Abraham said. He expects the investigation to last weeks.

At a New York legislative hearing Wednesday, an official with the state’s transmission operator testified the system was hit with power swings too severe to withstand.

“The operators were unable to take any action to mitigate the event since it occurred in seconds,” said William Museler, president and chief executive officer of the New York Independent System Operator.

He said an investigation into New York’s response to the blackout was continuing. On Tuesday, Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, insisted the state’s system is not outdated and not the cause of the blackout.

Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy is at the center of a U.S.-Canada inquiry of what caused the outage. The most prominent theory is a FirstEnergy power plant in Eastlake, Ohio, and some of its electricity transmission lines failed, including one that sagged into a tree.

The Aug. 14 blackout severed power to 50 million people in eight states and parts of Canada. Some experts believe the outage could have been further contained if the utilities were in better communication with each another.

Speaking yesterday in Detroit, Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich criticized the Bush administration’s efforts to investigate the blackout as not thorough enough. Investigators are expected to focus on the direct cause, rather than analyzing trends such as deregulation that may have indirectly contributed to the outage.

Mr. Kucinich, a congressman from Ohio, stressed the importance of nonprofit, publicly owned electric utilities in the United States and Canada.

“The blackout that occurred a couple weeks ago is a symptom of a system that is sick through deregulation — a system where private control of utilities has meant less service, service vulnerabilities, high rates.”

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