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Blackout followed hours of glitches

09/26/03

Teresa Dixon Murray
Plain Dealer Reporter

There was even more trouble in Ohio leading up to last month's blackout than previously reported, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

The regulator this week pinpointed at least 64 notable glitches statewide in the four hours before the Aug. 14 blackout that affected eight states and Ontario. Most of the problems involved power plants or major lines that tripped off momentarily or went down completely.

The PUCO outlined the problems in its own version of a timeline of events, which it started compiling the night of the blackout. The report has been turned over to Gov. Bob Taft and the U.S.-Canadian task force investigating the historic blackout.

Absent from the timeline, however, are events reported by the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, which is the regional electric traffic cop for Northeast Ohio and parts of 14 other states. The list of problems noted by the Midwest ISO was included on the PUCO's original timeline, but was deleted from the publicly released verison.

PUCO spokeswoman Shana Gerber said last week's version "was still in draft form."

PUCO Chairman Alan Schriber said yesterday that two columns of information, including the Midwest ISO column, were deleted so that the report would fit on an 8-by-11-inch sheet of paper. He promised to release the full version.

More than 50 of the highlighted events involved FirstEnergy Corp. or American Electric Power; the rest involved Cinergy of Cincinnati and Dayton Power & Light.

The timeline contained more information than reports released by FirstEnergy on Sept. 4 or by American Electric Power on Aug. 22.

"Clearly, there's more known now," said FirstEnergy spokesman Ralph DiNicola. "If we had a timeline today, it might be a couple hundred pages long."

The PUCO reported that among the 64 notable events was the tripping off of some smaller transmission lines not included on the FirstEnergy report.

AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said AEP wasn't as concerned about detailing lines that tripped but came back on after a minute.

Perhaps more interesting, McHenry said, is listing all of the events because one can see that everyone's problems were practically nonstop that day. "That would not be a normal day," she said.

Gerber stressed that the PUCO isn't implying that any of the events included on the timeline caused the blackout. The PUCO, however, did omit some FirstEnergy events, saying they "did not cause or contribute to the blackout."

Schriber last week said the binational task force should report the cause or causes in mid- to late October.

After that, the task force is expected to recommend changes in procedures or equipment in hopes of preventing future blackouts.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

tmurray@plaind.com, 216-999-4113


2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.
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