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  • Roger Witherspoon

The Blackout of 2003

By Roger Witherspoon

The Journal News

The largest blackout in U.S. history started one year ago tomorrow with simple

neglect in the woodlands of Ohio.

FirstEnergy Corp., the electric utility that serves parts of that state, had failed to

follow one of the simpler, albeit voluntary, operating standards for the nation's

power companies: Keep transmission lines clear of volatile underbrush and tree


On Aug. 14, 2003, a brush fire beneath one Ohio power line and the scraping of tree

limbs near others led to short-circuits that created a ripple effect, ultimately

cascading into the massive blackout that affected 50 million people in eight states in

the Midwest and Northeast, and eastern Canada.

A US/Canada Power Outage Task Force, appointed by President Bush and Canadian

Prime Minister Jean Chretien to investigate the blackout, found that violations of

voluntary operating standards developed for the United States, Canada and Mexico

were at the heart of the power disruption.

The standards apply to the training of power grid and utility operators, the

maintenance of transmission lines and power equipment, and other activities needed

for the smooth flow of electricity.

In Canada, the standards are mandatory, enforced by the province governments.

"We are working closely with everyone in the States to make sure standards mean

the same thing to all partners in the United States and Mexico," said Ghyslain Carron

of Natural Resources Canada, that nation's energy agency.

Yet a year after the night the lights went out, the task force study and industry

analyses, proposed congressional and Bush administration legislation, and millions of

dollars in transmission system upgrades, nothing has changed in the United States


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