Page last updated
1998 Outage News
The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) compiles reports on outages. Click to go to their web site for a list of outages sorted by year.
The following is a list of news summaries of major power outages and related stories as reported in the media for this time period. The most recent are listed first.
Virginia Power deploys 1000 to battle storm damage
RICHMOND, Va - Virginia Power sent an armada of bucket trucks and an army of linemen to continue its massive restoration effort due to a Christmas Eve ice storm that affected over 400,000 customers. About 75% of its customers were without power in the hardest hit areas around Williamsburg. Thousands of people remained in the dark nearly a week after the storm struck.
Click above for a full size graph of customers affected by this storm.
From Virginia Power News Releases December 24-29, 1998
AUCKLAND UNPLUGGED - The story of a blackout
On February 20, 1998 the chief executive of Mercury Energy is on his way to a celebration honoring his accomplishments. Having quadrupled the profits of his company in four years and halved the staff in the same period, he has achieved a lot. But on that day the last of the four underground cables supplying power to Auckland's Business District fails, leaving Central Business District in the dark. Repairing these gas and oil filled cables usually take several weeks. The next morning virtually every generator in New Zealand is on its way to the capital city. In the next few days, a team is formed and has generators flown in from as far away as Australia, Singapore and the United States. A generator part of a cargo ship is even connected to the grid bringing total operating capacity to 42 MW. Still, this is far less than the normal peak demand of 180 MW. The emergency power supply is not sufficient to run air-conditioning, elevators and computers. To keep their businesses going over the following weeks, amny companies take their only option: move out of the Central Business District. Retailers face huge financial losses. After round-the-clock repairs, two of the cables are ready for testing on March 4th. Unfortunately both failed the test. At this point, the local power transmission company joins the effort which ultimately results in the construction of a new overhead 110 kV 120 MW transmission line 5 1/2 miles long. On April 15th, some 52 days after the CEO's interrupted trip to a celebration, power is fully restored. The costs of the crisis ultimately cost the company NZ$128 million plus pending lawsuits of about NZ$10 million.
Electric Light & Power magazine, November 1998
Deregulation puts electricity reliability in question
Deregulation could make the threat of random emergency electricity cutoffs increasingly common, experts warn. In the midwest last month, rolling blackouts were barely avoided after four days of blistering heat. The crisis was made worse by thunderstorms and tornadoes that knocked out generating plants from Minnesota to Ohio. Utilities had to jump into the wholesale market and pay up to $7,000 per megawatt to make up for the shortfall. This price is more than 100 times the normal price of $30 to $50 a megawatt. Uncertainty about how a deregulated industry can maintain reliability is creating widespread anxiety. Meanwhile, excess generating capacity is shrinking in some regions because existing utilities are reluctant to build when they can no longer pay for new plants by increasing customer rates.
USA Today, July 10, 1998
Committee of Experts appointed by Hydro-Québec's Board of
Directors Issues Report on January 1998 Ice Storm
On January 5, 1998 southwestern Québec was struck by an ice storm of exceptional intensity resulting in major disruptions of electrical service to over one million customers, representing approximately half the population of Québec. On January 21st, the Hydro-Québec retained the services of a committee of experts to advise on various technical aspects of the storm including the pertinence of the measures already taken and proposed for the near future. Maximum ice radial thickness deposited on overhead lines exceeded 75 mm (3 inches) resulting in damage to 116 high voltage transmission lines and the collapse of 3,110 transmission towers. Effects on the distribution system, as stated in the report, includeded of 350 damaged lines and 16,000 collapsed structures. The numbers of customers without power during the period of the storm are depicted in the graph below (click to enlarge).
For full text of the report including all figures see http://www.hydroquebec.com/publications/r980727e/index.html
Hydro-Québec Report on January 1998 Ice Storm, July 2, 1998
Blackouts Could Occur due to Year-2000 Computer Problem
The U.S. Senate studying the year-2000 computer problem stated that only two of the nation's ten largest electric and gas utilities have completed assessments of their systems to determine the possibility for breakdowns. Elizabeth Moler, deputy secretary of energy, told the committee "We don't have a complete picture of the energy system at this time. We need the facts, not doomsday scenarios." Sen. Robert F. Bennett, (R) Utah, heads the special committee and stated, "I am genuinely concerned about the very real prospects of power shortages as a consequence of the millennial date change." Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, (D) CT said, "Quite honestly, I think we're no longer at the point of asking whether or not there will be any power disruptions, but we are now forced to ask how severe the disruptions are going to be."
The Washington Times, June 13, 1998
Florida Fire Started by Faulty Power Lines
One of several wild fires burning in central Florida were blamed on high-power electrical lines installed without proper insulation. State forestry officials said the new 13,000 volt power lines were blown together by a wind gust, which sparked the fire. In two days 7,300 acres were charred in five counties and at least 35 homes were destroyed.
CNN, Geneva, Florida, June 9, 1998
More Hurricanes Expected in the Atlantic as El Niño Subsides
The Weather Research Center in Houston predicts eight tropical storms in the Atlantic this season with five of those developing into hurricanes. Last year there were only seven tropical storms of which three became hurricanes.
The Washington Times, June 7, 1998
Weekend Storms Kill at least 15 Persons and Shut Down Power to
more than 1.3 million People
Severe thunderstorms and twisters swept through the upper Midwest Saturday night and through the East on Sunday bringing destruction and power outages. Spencer, S.D. was wiped off the map and hundreds of homes were destroyed across the nation. In Connecticut more than 30,000 homes were without power. Consumers Power in Michigan reported that this was the worst outage from a single storm in its history with more than 600,000 losing power. More than 200,000 were without power in Minnesota and another 200,000 in Wisconsin. In New Hampshire 18,000 were blacked out and in Vermont more than 10,000 lost electricity. In southeastern Pennsylvania nearly 200,000 homes were without power.
Reuters, June 2, 1998.
Another Blackout Hits Baltimore during the Preakness Horse Race
Two days after many residents of Baltimore lost power during the final showing of "Seinfeld", a transformer failed during the 123rd annual Preakness. Most of the Pimlico race track was plunged into darkness, shutting down betting, concession stands and air conditioning on the 95-degree day. Those who purchased the less expensive infield tickets were not aware of the outage across the track in the clubhouse and grandstand. And at the other end of the infield, where the corporate tents stood usnscathed, things were so normal that the Maryland governor declared the whole thing a "wonderful day." All the power also appeared to be working in hospitality tent #16, which belonged to none other than the local power company.
The Washington Post, May 17, 1998.
Baltimore Power Outage Turns Off the Final Episode of Seinfeld
Some 17,000 electric customers in Baltimore lost power at about 6 p.m. and again after a brief restoration from 8:20 p.m. to 8:40 p.m. The 75 minute final episode started at 8:45 p.m. on May 14, 1998. Rumor has it that one of the chief executives of NBC was in town and also was unable to watch the broadcast. Residents were incredulous and infuriated as a power outage struck at the worst possible moment. Additional residents who did not lose electricity were unable to see the show because the local cable company shutdown due to the power outage.
The Baltimore Sun, May 15-16, 1998 and other sources.
New Zealand's Largest City may Be Blacked out for Months
A major power outage in downtown Auckland, New Zealand may be prolonged for 10 more weeks. The city utility tried unsuccessfully yesterday to repair cables that normally carry the power from a hydroelectric plant south of the city. The last of the four underground cables failed on February 20 during a heatwave. The Chamber of Commerce reports the latest news means disaster for some business owners that have no backup power sources. Some of the owners have said they will be better to walk away from their businesses.
(AP) as reported in The Washington Times, March 5, 1998.
Montreal hanging on the last power line
Record breaking ice storms have caused the collapse of four of the five main transmission lines that bring electricity from Hydro Quebec's power stations in the north. Many transmission towers crumpled under the excessive weight of ice adhering to the cables and tower structures. Businesses are being urged to close to conserve power and to prevent the last line from tripping on overload.
Various news reports, January 1998.
Canadian Outage Continues
January 17, 1998. About 800,000 Canadians in Québec and Ontario remained without electricity for the 11th day, down from the original 3 million who lost power. The utility, Hydro-Quebec, warned that some areas outside the cities might not have power back for weeks.
(AP), as reported in the Washington Times, January 11&17, 1998
Severe Ice Storm Hits New England
January 12, 1998. More than 750,000 customers were without power when a vast ice storm brought down power lines in New England. National Guard helicopters were sent flying across northern New York to search for people isolated and in their fourth day without electricity. Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. said it could be four weeks before it restores power to everyone. Improper use of charcoal grills and propane heaters resulted in sicknesses from carbon monoxide poisoning and several deaths.
(AP) as reported in the Washington Times, January 11-12, 1998