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Posted on Sat, Aug. 30, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
House panel will probe blackout
Ohio governor and FirstEnergy CEO among those who will testify in Washington

Beacon Journal business writer

A congressional committee next week will try to light a candle on what darkened millions of homes and businesses Aug. 14.

Gov. Bob Taft, FirstEnergy Corp. Chairman and CEO H. Peter Burg and other Ohio officials, regulators and utility executives are scheduled to testify before Congress about the cause of the Great Blackout of 2003.

The hearings before the full House Energy and Commerce Committee are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. The witnesses have been asked by U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the committee chairman, to respond to questions on what caused the blackout, what has been done to make the electric grid safe and reliable, what prevented the blackout from spreading further, and how the grid can be improved.

While investigators have cautioned that it will be weeks before they have preliminary findings on what caused the historic blackout, they continue to focus on problems in FirstEnergy's system in northern Ohio as the triggering point. Transmission lines owned by the Akron-based utility failed in the hours preceding the blackout that left tens of millions without power in the Midwest and Northeast and parts of Canada.

A joint U.S.-Canadian task force is collecting information on the events leading up to the blackout. The investigation is pulling together data from utilities and others.

Burg is scheduled to testify Thursday as part of a panel that will include American Electric Power Chairman, President and CEO E. Linn Draper and others.

``Obviously this is an ongoing process and we don't have all the answers,'' FirstEnergy spokesman Ralph DiNicola said. FirstEnergy has said that while its system was having problems before the blackout, there is evidence that other parts of the electric grid were having difficulties before FirstEnergy's system.

Besides Taft, other Ohioans set to speak Wednesday include Alan Schriber, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, and Brantley Eldridge, executive manager of the Canton-based East Central Area Reliability Council.

Taft's office said the governor will urge federal lawmakers to pass an energy bill that, among other things, includes mandatory reliability standards for the transmission system. Taft will say the bill should include mandatory reliability standards, incentives to invest in the country's electricity grid, and reform of regional transmission organizations that oversee electricity transmission.

Also scheduled to testify are New York Gov. George Pataki, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Patrick Wood, North American Electric Reliability Council President Michehl Gent and others.

Three Ohio congressmen are on the energy and commerce committee: Republican Paul Gillmor and Democrats Sherrod Brown and Ted Strickland.

Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or
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