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2003 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 some major power outages and related stories as reported in the media for this time period. The most recent are listed first.
Power cuts - Risks and
alternatives to the current transmission system
Perhaps the biggest revelation following the recent wave of power outages is that anyone purports to have been surprised that they took place. Indeed, not only was it no surprise that they happened, but it is clear that they will happen again with perhaps even more catastrophic consequences next time.
Herve Laffaye, head of the French grid operator RTE, perhaps put it best explaining, "A grid spreads the risk, but a serious fault pull everyone down at the same time." Anyone with a doubt should talk to businesses in New York and Toronto forced to shut down in mid-August, commuters stuck on the Underground in London in late August, passengers on trains that ground to a halt in Denmark and Sweden in mid-September, and Italian citizens who awoke with no power on the last Sunday in September. All told, more than 125 million people experienced the problems of the current power transmission systems.
The grid system, so ubiquitous today, was actually designed nearly 70 years ago to compensate for the unreliability of power plants. The logic was completely justified at the time. In the wake of the Canadian-American power blackout, Jeff Dagle, chief electrical engineer and grid reliability expert for the U.S. D.O.E. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said, "We're using the grid in ways that it wasn't designed for, and the results can be cascading outages that cripple entire regions."
www.re-focus.net excerpts from US Commentary, REFOCUS, Nov/Dec 2003.
Power restoration in Isabel's wake
Hurricane Isabel's sweep through the mid-Atlantic region of the US on September 18 left at least 28 people dead and millions without electricity in nine states and the District of Columbia. The states hit the hardest were North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and New York. Power outages in many areas lasted for a week or more. As a result there has been a run on portable generators and very few are left for sale. For statistics on Washington, DC area customers without power see graph below. About half of customers without power did not have it restored until more than 3 days later.
image to enlarge
various news reports, August 19-26, 2003.
NOAA posted satellite images taken before
and during the historic blackout in the Northeastern US. NOAA
processed the night lights data taken by the Defense Meteorological
Satellite Program (DMSP). The images were further processed by the Air
Force Weather Agency (AFWA) to add annotations. The images were taken Aug
13, at 9:21 p.m. EDT and Aug 14 at 9:03 p.m. EDT. NoOutage.com aligned and
animated the two images. For complete article go to
courtesy NOAA, DMSP and AFWA, August 15, 2003.
Largest outage in US history
affects 50 million people
On Thursday August 14 a massive blackout struck the northeast US and parts of Canada. It cascaded throughout the region just after 4 pm causing havoc for commuters preparing to leave major cities for home at the end of their workday. Subways, train and airports had to stop service stranding thousands of passengers.
The initiator appears to be related to three transmission lines owned and operated by FirstEnergy in Ohio that were disconnected a couple hours earlier. A warning system that alerts personnel in the regional control center was not operational. At 4:05 pm EDT increasingly wild power swings were observed by system operators. These started out as 100MW system oscillations which rapidly grew to 800MW. When they reached 3000MW at 4:09 pm the system became unstable. It then took only 9 seconds for the system to collapse. Restoration of power took 1-2 days in most areas.
The exact cause of the blackout is not yet known but a contributor almost certainly is congestion on transmission lines. A federal study conducted by FERC in 2001 identified about 20 bottlenecks or choke points in the transmission system in the eastern half of the US. Half of these lines are congested more than 50% of the time leaving no capacity margin for error. With deregulation of the electric generating industry came more power transfers over greater distances on the transmission network. At the same time, due to low return on investment, regulatory uncertainty, and siting difficulties (not in my backyard) few new lines are being built.
About 100 generating plants and customers in eight states plus Ontario, Canada were affected. The states impacted were Ohio, Michigan, northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts and 80% of New York. Major metro areas affected included New York City, Albany, Detroit, Toledo, Toronto, and Ottawa. A total of 9,300 square miles was without power. The next largest blackout also occurred in the Northeast US on November 9, 1965 and affected 30 million customers.
various news reports, August 14-18 2003.
Region's utilities gradually come
Jackson, TN -- Jackson Energy Authority had about 28,000 customers without electricity on Monday due to widespread damage from a tornado. By late Wednesday that number had been reduced to 11,000 but it may be as much as 10 days before power is fully restored. An ice storm of 1994 had some customers out for eight days but this time it will be longer. The tornado took out power lines and poles, electric substations and water treatment plants in a matter of minutes late Sunday evening.
Jackson Sun, May 8, 2003.
Tornado-ravaged Midwest gets more
De Soto, MO -- Tornados swept across the Midwest and South overnight and early Wednesday, killing people, knocking out power and battering a region still trying to recover from deadly twisters that struck over the weekend. In Tennessee at least 15 people are dead with others missing. One tornado carved a 65 mile path of destruction through the state causing major damage and power outages in Jackson. Death, destruction and/or power outages also occurred in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Illinois, Arkansas, Mississippi and Kentucky due to storms and tornados.
USA Today, May 4, 2003.
Seagulls cause power outage
CARPINTERIA, CA -- Southern California Edison said 3,263 households in Carpinteria lost electrical power probably due to three seagulls fighting over food. "Birds land on a wire and become part of the circuit," said Tom Lapp, systems supervisor in the SCE operations department. "Its not a problem unless their wings touch the pole or another wire. That causes a short. One wire was burned down and it hit two other wires on other circuits on the way down which is why it caused so many houses to go out," he said. Three dead seagulls and one fish were found at the bottom of the pole. "I would like to have seen that bird and fish," said Dean Opperman who was badly affected by the outage. "There was a loud bang with the restored power; then there was a surge. I have surge protectors, but it blew out my TV system," he said. His TV, VCR, DVD, fan, electric razor and computer were ruined. And light bulbs blew up.
Joanne Cunha, CoastalView.com, February 6, 2003.
Power outage during Superbowl
TOLEDO, OH -- It was the last thing people wanted on a Superbowl Sunday: the power went out in the middle of the game! Toledo Edison reported that power was lost to about 1,200 customers at 7:30 p.m. By 11:00 p.m. most customers had their power back. Edison isn't sure why the lights went out.
WTVG-TV, January 26, 2003.