Final Report: Blackout Action Needed

Earlier this month, the United States and Canada issued a final report by the U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force on the causes of the August 2003 North American blackout and on recommendations for the prevention of future such events. The task force makes numerous recommendations to both governments to minimize the likelihood of future blackouts, reduce the scope of those that do occur, and improve the security of the North American power grid.

The 14 August 2003 blackout was the largest power outage in North American history, plunging some 50 million citizens of Ontario, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey into darkness. The report notes that, while the origin of the blackout may have started in a power system in Ohio, the ultimate impact of the source failure was compounded by "long-standing institutional failures and weaknesses that need to be understood and corrected in order to maintain reliability."

The 221-page report states at the very beginning that: '[T]he blackout could have been prevented and that immediate actions must be taken in both the United States and Canada to ensure that our electric system is more reliable. First and foremost, compliance with reliability rules must be made mandatory with substantial penalties for non-compliance.' To this end, the task force emphasizes that 'significant accomplishments' in the last three years have been achieved.

An accompanying announcement from U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman and Minister of Natural Resources for Canada Gary Lunn states: 'Mandatory reliability standards are being implemented in the United States and in jurisdictions across Canada. The North American Electric Reliability Council is submitting 118 new standards to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and appropriate authorities in Canada for review and approval. Additional standards are also being developed.'

Bodman writes: "I appreciate the hard work and diligence that went into this important report. It demonstrates that while improvements are being made to enhance grid reliability, we still have a very complex system that is subject to possible mechanical and human failures. We must remain vigilant."

Lunn adds: "The Task Force has been an outstanding example of close cooperation between the governments of Canada and United States, and we have established a Bilateral Electric Reliability Oversight Group for collaboration between authorities in both countries on issues of common concern."

Additional documentation on the response to the blackout is available at the Department of Energy's August 2003 Blackout Web site.

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