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