ASHINGTON, Nov. 11 — A report on the Aug. 14 blackout
identifies specific lapses by various parties, including
FirstEnergy's failure to react properly to the loss of a
transmission line, people who have seen drafts of it say.
A working group of experts from eight states and Canada will meet
in private on Wednesday to evaluate the report, people involved in
the investigation said Tuesday. The report, which the Energy
Department plans to release on Nov. 18, is expected to lay out the
root causes of the event, with a separate report proposing solutions
to come later.
The report, drafted by an aide at the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, will probably leave for later the question of why the
blackout stopped where it did, participants in the investigation
Investigators have established a chronology of events that day,
collecting data from hundreds of digital fault recorders, electronic
devices that track when power lines or generators take themselves
out of service.
Participants in the inquiry said that engineers had identified
the failure of FirstEnergy operators in Akron, Ohio, to react
properly after nearby transmission lines failed, causing a short
circuit that made the line disconnect itself from the grid.
It was not the loss of the initial lines that caused the lights
to go out from Detroit to New York City, because lines frequently
fail without interrupting service, experts say. Instead, the report
is said to indicate that it was the failure of the operators to
perform a crucial step called a contingency analysis and then, if
necessary, reconfigure the system.
"There's no evidence that was even part of their thought
process," one investigator said. But investigators and FirstEnergy
itself say the utility was hampered by a malfunctioning computer
that did not alert the utility to power line failures. Transcripts
released by a House committee in September indicate that FirstEnergy
system controllers were unaware of what was happening.
Contingency analyses are performed because the failure of a line
or power plant changes the flows across the power system, putting
other lines at risk and creating new vulnerabilities, experts say.
Sometimes the analysis will identify a single line or generating
station that, if it failed, would cause a cascading blackout. To
eliminate the possibility of additional failures causing a blackout,
operators change the power flows by starting some generators and
reducing power to others.
Last month, the investigation moved from a group of up to 90
engineers, meeting in Princeton, N.J., at the headquarters of the
North American Electric Reliability Council, to the staff of the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that has been
seeking to deregulate the electric system.
Separate groups have been convened to study security issues as
well as the role and performance of nuclear plants in the
Congress is considering an energy bill that could make various
changes in the way the grid is managed. The House could take up the
bill before the report is released.
"There's probably going to be some balancing of competing
interests at play in the final report," said a Congressional staff
member with long experience in electric regulation issues. He and
others said that the energy regulatory commission was a strong
proponent of taking the electric transmission system out of the
hands of the utilities that built it and putting it under the
control of regional transmission organizations that would operate it
like highways, available for all generators and customers to use.
But other participants in the electric system, including utilities
in the South and some state regulators, do not favor that
"They're not going to want the F.E.R.C. to come out with a strong
argument for standard market design," said the aide, referring to
the commission's term for the deregulation system it favors.
The commission has also played a role in the establishment of
control areas in the Northeast and Midwest, a patchwork pattern that
experts say may have laid the groundwork for the technical failures
on Aug. 14.
The electric reliability council, a Canadian-American group that
sets voluntary standards for the electricity industry, has an
objective of its own: it would like to become the enforcement
authority for transmission rules.
A spokesman for FirstEnergy, Ralph J. DiNicola, said last week
that his company did not know what was in the report, but that any
analysis should take into account large unplanned south-to-north
power movements that were part of a phenomenon known as loop flows,
which occur when power takes a route from producer to buyer
different from the intended path.