The Blackout of 2003

The initiating events appear to have happened under the lazy eyes of a mismanaged utility, but underlying conditions made a massive U.S. power failure almost inevitable

10 min read

With additional reporting on sidebars by Willie D. Jones, Elizabeth A. Bretz, and Chris Lang

21 August 2003--What was by most measures the biggest electricity outage in history, surpassing the blackouts in the western United States in the summer of 1996, swept northeastern and Great Lakes states and the Canadian province of Ontario late Thursday afternoon, 14 August. Long before power had been restored to businesses and residences from New York City to Cleveland, Detroit, and Toronto, politicians and commentators on both sides of the border were pointing fingers. But, in fact, major difficulties in the electric power system had been predicted by three U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) studies going back to 1998, and had been duly reported in the press (including IEEE Spectrum), with plenty of blame for inaction to go all around.

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Greg Mably


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