North East black out is an important event in the history of North America, showing the vulnerability of North American technology, which compelled the leaders of the affected countries to find the causes and events associated with this key event. Investigation by experts revealed a few limitations of North American infrastructure. Based on reports submitted by exports to the government, the latter is expected to avoid repetition of such events in the future. This paper will present causes of North East black out and various events related to this notable development in the recent technological history of North America.
Events The North East blackout which took place on August 14 2003 affected North American regions such as New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio, Ottawa, and Toronto, and many other cities, urban and industrial centers. (Great Northeast, n. d. ) The blackout affected American airports and nuclear power plants, which were forced to temporarily close down their operations. The US government vehemently denied terrorist role in this event. (Great Northeast, n. d. ) The blackout resulted in large numbers of queries concerning the real reasons for the power failure.
The government decided to set up investigation committees in order to find the real cause of this swift development. Although, earlier such events happened as found in 1965 and 1977, no one anticipated blackout in 2003 particularly due to the fact that outage occurred during the earlier years due to technical malfunction and lightning strike respectively. The studies that ventured to analyze the reasons for this event have contributed to major debates among experts who propounded divergent theories assessing the 2003 blackout.
(Great Northeast, n. d. ) The immediate concern of the American and Canadian authorities was not to find the cause, but to find a solution to the chaotic situation that had emerged due to power failure since railway stations, airports, and power plants were temporarily shut down affecting the routine life of large numbers of individuals. People began to walk on the pavements and streets affecting the traffic movement. (Blackouts, 2003) Many people complained that they could not stay at home due to excessive heat.
People assembled on the roads and began to discuss the possible chief reasons for this development. People were affected when the government failed to restore power situation in the regions like Manhattan. (Blackouts, 2003) People found it very difficult to spend their nighttime specifically due to the fact that air conditioners ceased to function in their houses. (Blackouts, 2003) Many people were stranded in their office buildings and lifts. Attempt was made by fire personnel and other government and non government agencies to rescue such people.
Significantly, looting was reported in various localities in Ottawa, thereby demonstrating that the situation had reached dangerous proportions that invited immediate government action in the form of restoration of power and order in the affected regions. Although the US administration denied terrorist attack, many people feared the repetition of September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the US. (Blackouts, 2003) George W Bush, the American president, stated that although the Americans were affected by blackout, life was returning, albeit slowly, to normalcy.
This statement, apparently, was made to give a glimmer of hope to the people who feared devastating consequences of this development. People were greatly affected particularly due to the fact that on the day of the event temperature had reached 32 degree centigrade, which forced the people to stay outside their houses. Mobile phones ceased functioning forcing people to use only payphones and there was a big queue to use the payphone service. (Blackouts, 2003) The New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested that people need to remain composed in the event of serious consequences of this development.
(Blackouts, 2003) The above-mentioned details indicate that people as well as administrators were perturbed by this event although administration claimed to regain the control by finding the reason for this problem. The New York administration claimed that no one was injured while evacuating people from lifts and office buildings. The details of this event show that it affected industry, transport, and communication. The administrators tried their best to manage the tense atmosphere by issuing various statements assuring the people that power facility could be recovered soon.
(Blackouts, 2003) On August 14th 2003, until 4 p. m. there was no sign of future events to follow since there was normal power supply. NYIS (New York Independent System) operators had also not received any information regarding the disturbance in other connected power lines. Although there was noticeable problem in one power line, this was due to the previous problem that could not be connected with the later power surge. Suddenly, it was noticed that there was apparent imbalance in the power line of Ontario unit since there were power swings entering and leaving NYISO and Ontario units.
(NYISO, 2004, p. 4) There was rapid increase in the amount of power entering Ontario unit. This was the first sign of the future development leading to blackout. Unexpectedly, there was the entry of 3500 MW power to NYISO. The ensuing events resulted in the severance of connection between two NYISO divisions – western New York and Ontario system. (NYISO, 2004, p. 4) This was the beginning of the series of events leading to the developments connected with power failure in some parts of the US and Canada. (NYISO, 2004, p. 4)
The analyses of above-mentioned events indicate that initially operators could not anticipate the root cause of the problem due to which they were not able restore the power system to normalcy. Since NYISO was divided into two different islands having no connection with each other, it was very difficult to maintain balance between the two islands. This resulted in the tripping of electrical units in various regions such as Hudson valley, New York City, and Long Island. In the southeastern island there was shortage of nearly 6000 MW power, which caused total darkness in the areas that depended on this transmission unit to supply power.
(NYISO, 2004, p. 4) The various events associated with blackout are transmission trips in Northeastern Ohio, loss of connection between ISO-New England, no connection between southwestern Ontario and New York, and fall of southeastern-New York Island. (NYISO, 2004, p. 12) The key events that took place on August 14th 2003 included failure of “FE alarm and logging software”, failure of “FE remote location consoles”, tripping of “Star-South Canton 345-kV transmission line”, and failure of FE (First Energy) control system alarm function. (Interim report, 2003, p.
28) It is reported that these events took place during the time period – 14:14 to 14:41 EDT. FE was expected to restore the situation to normalcy, which could not be done due to weaknesses in the system as pointed out earlier. (Interim report, 2003, p. 28) Other important events that are found in this case are: tripping of Harding-Chamberlin 345-kV line, tripping of Hanna-Juniper 345-kV line, and collapse of transmission system in Northern Ohio. (Interim report, 2003, pp. 29-41) This development resulted in various alarms and phone calls, which showed that operators had lost their control of the system.
(Interim report, 2003) Causes The sudden blackout created chaotic conditions as people panicked and searched in vain for immediate solution, which was, unfortunately, not forthcoming. Contradictory reasons were given for the unexpected power failure. The Canadian authorities believed that there was a fire in the Niagara power plant in the US. This claim was immediately refuted by the American authorities although they could not give convincing explanation concerning the real reason for this development. (Blackouts, 2003)
As mentioned earlier, in order to find the reasons for power failure, the US and Canadian governments appointed a task force, which submitted its report in 2003. The report revealed a few possible reasons for the power failure that affected various regions of North America. A central point noted by the report is that the North American Power Grid is an “interconnected machine”, which establishes connection between different regions, thereby implying that power failure in one region affects power situation of another region.
(Interim report, 2003, p. 3) The chief reasons for the power outage on August 14th 2003 were “Inadequate Situational Awareness, Inadequate Tree Trimming, and Inadequate RC Diagnostic Support”. (Intermit report, 2003, p. 23) First Energy Corporation (FE) was not able to obtain essential information regarding malfunctioning of some components, which created unexpected power failure. The FE did not regularly monitor the effective functioning of various technical units. There was no plan to deal with the situation of rapid malfunctioning of units.
Therefore, when this event took place, there was no alternative plan with FE, which resulted in severe power shortage generating imbalance between various power lines. This implies that when one power line lost its connection with the main unit, it laid enormous stress on other lines that could not stomach the burden of rapid increase in the power flow. (Interim report, 2003) Along with technical failures, there were a few human errors that caused power grid to fail. Experts also suggest that rapid enhanced power flow did not cause this event.
This implies that there were multiple factors that resulted in power failure, showing vulnerability of North American power infrastructure affecting millions of people in United States and Canada. (Interim report, 2003, p. 23) FE did not use the procedures to enable the operators to react to the emergency situations. This debilitated the ability of operators to immediately respond to the crisis situation. (Interim report, 2003, p. 23) Therefore, proper procedures should have been employed in order to assist the operators to perform their duties in a better way.
Due to the limitations of the power management system, operators failed to monitor functioning of tools and transmission procedure. This had negative impact on the monitoring ability of the operators, thereby creating a crisis situation. (Interim report, 2003, p. 23) Another reason for this event was that the FE did not take appropriate decisions concerning tree cutting necessary to avoid disturbance to power lines as indicated by problems that emanated in FE 345-KV transmission lines. (Interim report, 2003, p. 23)
There was no proper communication between various organizations that were required to identify problems in various sections. For example, the diagnostic organizations did not possess data pertaining to Dayton Power and Light’s Stuart Atlanta lines, thereby creating loss of information due to which potential power problems could not be predicted by the concerned organizations. (Interim report, 2003, p. 23) This was one reason responsible for unexpected development in the form of power failure in various regions of North America.
The power agency personnel did not possess necessary tools and expertise to identify problems in specific lines and interconnected grids. (Interim report, 2003, p. 23) The above three groups of factors have been mentioned as the main reason for the Northeast blackout. The interim report also found that FE had violated North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) power standards. FE could have avoided this situation or could have limited the damage by strictly enforcing NERC guidelines.
NERC has given unambiguous and specific guidelines pertaining to the ideal actions needed to be taken during emergency situation. NERC states that when transmission failure is identified the system is required to solve the problem within the maximum time limit of thirty minutes, but FE could not return to its previous position. (Interim report, 2003) Another NERC guideline states that after identification of problem in one unit, other units located in various regions should be informed. In the present case, FE did not forward power failure information to other units.
(Interim report, 2003, p. 25) This action should be taken particularly when one system is pressuring other systems leading to emergency situation. FE did not provide necessary tools to the system operator to analyze the causes for operation failure. This is considered as violation of another guideline issued by NERC. (Interim report, 2003, p. 25) The report also reveals that FE did not provide proper technical training to its employees. Consequently, when the system failed the employees did not possess relevant knowledge and information regarding the method of correcting the system.
NERC guidelines specifically state that employees’ achievement should be periodically reviewed and attempt should be made to improve employees’ ability to confront any possible difficult situation. Such attempts are absent in the case of FE, which has been responsible for this major event that has shaken substantial population in North America. (Interim report, 2003, p. 25) Due to communication gap between reliability coordinators, it was not possible to take appropriate action at the right time. In the present case, communication tools embodied in NERC documents were not used.
The above details indicate that various guideline issues by NERC were not clinically implemented by FE that culminated in the above-mentioned development. One would expect an organization like FE to take better care to avoid power failure. There is need for an independent agency to periodically monitor the performance of power grid units so that such unwarranted incidents do not recur in the future. (Interim report, 2003) In addition to the Interim report, New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) submitted report concerning the causes and events associated with 2003 blackout.
Based on its study, this report concluded that it was extremely important to insist the power units to religiously implement reliability standards. (NYISO, 2004, p. 3) This shows that this report accepted the recommendation given by interim report submitted in the year 2003. Scholars have suggested that the government should have laid down stringent guidelines in order to formulate a foolproof plan with a view to avoid recurrence of such events. This is particularly due to the fact that 2003 blackout was not the first event happening in the history of the US power transmission history.
Power organizations were expected to learn lessons from earlier experiences, but due to arguably lenient reliability standards, the government failed to accurately monitor the functioning of power transmission units. It is found that NYSO operators, unlike FE operators, were given necessary training in order to restore power supply when there was a crisis in power transmission. When problem developed in New York power transmission unit, NYSO operators were able to identify root cause of the problem and restore the system, showing that power transmission restoration needed the use of trained personnel with necessary tools.
Since NYSO operators were able to obtain training under the training program called “Generator Operating Training Seminar”, it was possible for the trained personnel to set right the system within expected time. This has proved the argument that imposing stringent reliability standards are important in order to ensure the efficiency of power transmission units. (NYSO, 2004, p. 3) August 2003 blackout has inspired a few scholars to identify problems in the structure of monitoring private and semi autonomous power corporations.
Although the US power supply system is better than third world countries, it is not free from limitations created partially by the political structure that the present Americans have inherited due to the principle of political power sharing between federal and state governments as envisaged by the founding fathers of American constitution. Although federalism has its own merits, unfortunately is also accompanied a few deficiencies. Due to the sharing of power between federal and state governments, avoidable confusion has been generated among the administrators.
Consequently, any federal organization like Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has been supervising nuclear power plants, has not been able to monitor functioning of private electrical transmission agencies such as FE. The lack of control, by the federal government, over private electrical transmission agencies, has been responsible for the 2003 debacle. (Joskow, 2003) This has prompted many scholars to suggest that there is need for creation of an organization that can monitor performance of power transmission units.
In order to avoid recurrence of such events, private and state owned power transmission units should be asked to become members of Regional Transmission Organization (RTO), an independent organization that can oversee the working of various private and public sector power manufacturing and transmission establishments. Since the federal government did not incorporate these principles in its administrative structure, private power transmission units’ performance were not monitored resulting in blackout in the US and Canada. (Joskow, 2003)
Deep probe into probable causes of this event has resulted in new revelations. In normal situations, power flows from west to east, from Michigan to New York while supplying power on the way to Ontario. (Hauben, 2003) On 14th August, surprisingly, there were significant changes in the direction of the power flow. Power transmission experts noticed in the computers that there was change in the direction of power flow, causing serious imbalance between western and eastern units. This shows that there are many deficiencies in the current philosophy of power units’ management.
Scholars suggest that this is due to a few political decisions taken by the government. During the beginning of 20th century, it was not possible for all private companies to compete for profit by investing in power industry. According to laws of the United States, it was possible to give monopoly power to a public or private sector organization to determine power supply to a particular region. (Hauben, 2003) This system allowed the government to supply power at a regulated price so that there was no scope for competition leading to unregulated and unmonitored power supply.
This efficient system of managing power continued till 1980s when it was decided to allow private players to compete for power management in various regions of the United States. This has affected the power units’ regulation since regulation mechanism requires sharing of information. Fearing loss of profit, private companies rarely volunteer to share information, thereby affecting the regulation mechanism. This shows that political decisions taken by the recent American government has been responsible for the setback of 2003.
Scholars have suggested that there is need to go back to traditional system of power management, which ensures power supply at a reasonable price while at the same time allowing the regulatory agencies to monitor performance of power units. (Hauben, 2003) While discussing the causes of 2003 blackout, a few scholars, apparently disappointed by the present power management, suggested that there is need for legislative reforms in order to avoid recurrence of such blackouts.
It is argued that inability of public and private sector enterprises to notably enhance their investment in power supply units is the main reason for the failure of power supply that culminated in 2003 blackout. Scholars have suggested that there is a need to invest in regulatory mechanism since deregulation philosophy of the government is mainly responsible for this unwarranted development leading to unanticipated consequences. By introducing legislative reforms, it is possible to insist that power units should be subjected to stringent regulations, which were absent in the case of power grid.
On the other hand, this argument is opposed by a few scholars who suggest that blackout happened due to slow pace of deregulation process. (Krapels, 2003) Therefore, they suggest that deregulation process should be given greater importance by the government. There is another group of scholars who suggest that technical factors were main reasons for this development and that such technical failures happened even in the regulation era, implying that enhanced regulation is not the answer to this problem. (Krapels, 2003)
With reference to the above arguments, one can suggest that technical failures due to lack of information sharing among firms can take place due to paucity of regulation. Therefore, a regulating authority needs to monitor the performance of employees of power transmission units so that they are able to withstand pressure particularly during power failure. One would agree with the argument that reasonably improved performance of power grid can be achieved by substantial investment in the power sector. In order to achieve this there is need for government encouragement to the investors in the form of tax incentives.
(Krapels, 2003) Therefore, balance needs to be maintained between regulation and investment so that it is possible to achieve the objectives of mitigating risk and enhancing efficiency of power transmission units. (Krapels, 2003) Critics argue that federal government appointed committees would not reveal the real cause of 2003 blackout. (Casazza et. al, 2004) It is important to know ‘real causes’ because unless they are known, it is not possible to initiate appropriate action so that such blackouts do not recur in the future.
Deregulation and accompanied developments are considered as real causes for this development. This event proves that private sector would not be able to manage highly complex electricity power management system. Therefore, the government should initiate the process of re-regulation. The private firms that are given the contract of maintaining power transmission units have failed to perform because they lack sufficient manpower having expertise knowledge to handle complex energy issues.
This is proved by the fact that power transmission units run by private organizations have drastically cut their manpower, thereby negatively affecting the employment market. (Casazza et. al, 2004) Conclusion Power supply is one of the most important and at the same time most problematic sectors that need to be handled with sufficient care. Investigation reports revealed that private power management units failed to respond to the crisis situation, obviously due to violation of several guidelines of regulatory agencies.
The power transmission units did not maintain highly trained personnel that resulted in the 2003 blackout affecting the routine life of common people. It is noticed that there was technical failure, which could not be immediately identified and managed by the operators. Scholars have argued that deregulation is the principal factor responsible for 2003 blackout. Therefore, it has been suggested that the government needs to introduce re-regulation measures in order avoid recurrence of such events in the future. References (n. d.
) Blackouts cause N America chaos. BBC News. Retrieved March 22, 2007, from the web site:http://newsvote. bbc. co. uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news. bbc. co. uk/1/hi/world/americas/3152451. stm Casazza, JA, Loehr, GC, Maliszewski, R, and Delea, F. (2004). What really the blackout? Power engineers supporting truth. Retrieved March 22, 2007, from the web site: http://www. PEST-03. org (n. d. ). Great Northeast power blackout of 2003. Global Security. org. Retrieved March 22, 2007 from the web site: http://www. globalsecurity. org/index. html Hauben, R.
(2003). Why was the blackout so widespread. Telepolis. Retrieved March 22, 2004, from the web site: http://www. heise. de/tp/ (November 2003). Interim report: causes of the August 14th blackout in the United States and Canada. U. S. -Canada Power System Outage Task Force. Canada. Krapels, E. N. (2003). Goodbye gridlock 2: how to end the shortage in transmission investment that led to the northeast blackout. An ESAI white paper. Wakefield, Massachusetts. (January 8, 2004). NYISO Interim report August 14, 2003 blackout. New York Independent System Operator.
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