ASHINGTON, Sept. 2 — Five electricity
organizations involved in the Aug. 14 blackout have sent letters to
the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee seeking to
implicate one another, to varying degrees, in the cascading failure.
On the eve of the first hearing on the blackout, one executive
complained about a "communications mishmash," and others said the
structure of the industry was inadequate to provide the reliability
that the public sought.
All wrote to the committee chairman, Billy Tauzin, Republican of
Louisiana. All cautioned that no conclusion could be drawn until
engineers had established the sequence of events that day, but many
writers apparently found that it was not too soon to make biting
"Detroit Edison's system operators were neither
advised of, nor able to detect the beginning of unusual events on
the electrical system until approximately 4:06 p.m. local time,"
said Anthony F. Earley Jr., chairman and chief executive of DTE Energy, the parent of the utility. "The
apparent breakdown in communications between the Ohio utilities and
other utility systems on Aug. 14 is an issue that must be
Another utility, International Transmission of Ann Arbor, Mich.,
complained that "with absolutely no warning, the I.T.C. transmission
grid was slammed with a tsunami of loop flow, which collapsed our
grid and the grids of our neighbors."
Loop flow is when current sold by one company and bought by
another takes an indirect route and flows over the lines of a third
The president and chief executive of I.T.C., Joseph L. Welch,
said, "Had Michigan been warned of the problems, a number of
actions, which would have forestalled the blackout, were available."
Mr. Welch said those actions would have helped save FirstEnergy of Akron, Ohio, the utility he said
was the source of the blackout. Mr. Welch, who referred to the
mishmash, asked that the Energy Department listen to control-room
tapes to confirm that FirstEnergy had sent no warning.
The chairman and chief executive of FirstEnergy, H. Peter Burg,
wrote: "Trying to pinpoint a single event is the wrong focus and
will not ultimately lead us to the right solutions. It is the
cumulative effect of all relevant events and not that last single
straw that must be identified and understood."
His letter did not specify the relevant events. But like the
other writers, he said he awaited the analysis by the Energy
Department and a voluntary group, the North American Electric
Reliability Council in Princeton, N.J.
The committee begins two days of hearings on Wednesday. A
spokesman for the panel, Ken Johnson, said, "The grid is designed to
handle multiple disturbances without going down, but clearly it went
down this time."
The committee released the letters this afternoon.
An early witness will be Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan.
In her prepared testimony, Ms. Granholm calls for Congress to
separate the problems of electricity grids from the other problems,
as well as to pass a separate law on grids. The problem has been on
the agenda for Congress for years, but always in an enormous energy
bill encumbered with contentious issues like drilling in Alaska or
making cars more efficient. Supporters of some controversial
provisions have sought to keep the bill together, in the hope that
the popular provisions would help carry the controversial ones.
Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan, senior Democrat on
the committee, reiterated his call for a separate proposal. But Mr.
Johnson, the panel spokesman, said that was "a standard Democratic
line" and that Mr. Dingell offered a substitute proposal to strip
"When the lights go out at home, the light on a good idea comes
on," Mr. Johnson said.
An executive at the PJM Interconnection in Norristown, Pa., the
Pennsylvania-Jersey-Maryland association that arrested the cascade
in North Jersey and western Pennsylvania, identified what a rule
might be. Its vice president for governmental policy and
communications, Craig Glazer, wrote that regional transmission
organizations like his needed accords with neighbors for each to
make minute-to-minute changes in their territories to ease
neighboring grid congestion.
"It has," Mr. Glazer wrote, "become increasingly clear that the
traditional system of multiple control areas with voluntary
coordination agreements and planning undertaken by each utility
individually simply cannot sustain us in the future."