Doe’s Report On The August Blackout

Secretary Abraham’s remarks on the release of the blackout report indicate some failure to meet reliability standards on the part of FirstEnergy, among other things:

The Electric System Working Group found that the initial events that led to the cascading blackout occurred in Ohio.

  • The blackout was initiated when three high-voltage transmission lines operated by FirstEnergy Corporation short-circuited and went out of service when they came into contact with trees that were too close to the lines.
  • The report tells us that FirstEnergy’s control-room alarm system wasn’t working properly – and the control-room operators were unaware it was not working properly – which meant they were also unaware that transmission lines had gone down.
  • And because FirstEnergy’s monitoring equipment wasn’t telling them about the downed lines, the control room operators took no action — such as shedding load — which could have kept the problem from growing, and becoming too large to control.
  • Moreover, because FirstEnergy operators did not know their monitoring equipment had failed and were unaware of the growing problems, they did not inform neighboring utilities and reliability coordinators, who also could have helped address the problem.
  • The loss of the three lines resulted in too much electricity flowing onto other nearby lines, which caused them to overload.
  • While all this was happening, there were also problems at the Midwest Independent System Operator – also called the MISO – which is the entity that coordinates power transmission in the region that includes FirstEnergy.
  • The Interim Report found that MISO’s system analysis tools weren’t performing effectively on the afternoon of August 14th. This prevented MISO from becoming aware of FirstEnergy’s problems earlier and taking action.
  • The Working Group also found that MISO’s reliability coordinators were using outdated data to support real-time monitoring, which hindered them in detecting further problems on the FirstEnergy system and assisting in relief actions.
  • Furthermore, the investigators found that MISO also lacked an effective means to identify the location and significance of transmission line breaker operations reported by its monitoring systems. Having that information would have enabled MISO operators to become aware of important line outages much earlier.
  • The report shows that MISO and the PJM Interconnection – which is the reliability control area that includes Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and parts of other states – lacked joint procedures to coordinate their reactions to transmission problems near their common boundary.
  • And the report identifies other factors that contributed to the conditions that led to the blackout, including poor communications, human error, mechanical breakdowns, inadequate training, software glitches, and insufficient attention to things ranging from the performance of sophisticated computer modeling systems to simple tree-trimming.

The Electric System Working Group has concluded that at least four reliability standards established by NERC were not observed by FirstEnergy on August 14th, and two were not followed by MISO. These failures helped create a problem of such magnitude as to be insurmountable.

The entire report is available at the DOE website.


2 thoughts on “Doe’s Report On The August Blackout

  1. See! It’s God’s fault after all, even if it wasn’t lightning. If he hadn’t designed trees to grow and metals to expand when heated, the blackout wouldn’t have occurred. All we have to do is amend the laws of nature and the problem will be solved, without spending the 50-100 billion dollars to bring transmission systems into the 21st century. It may take our legislators a couple of years to agree on the details of the amendments, but we can just trim the trees until they get it done. Problem solved. Hurray!

    It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. The west coast had two major blackouts in the late summer and early fall of 1996 attributed to sagging (overheated) transmission lines and over-achieving trees. Can’t blame those on corporate greed either, since the lines were owned and knowingly operated beyond design capacity by BPA, which had “excess” water behind dams and high power demand downstream. Apparently God didn’t learn from His mistakes seven years ago!

    Maintaining transmission rights of way is not rocket science or brain surgery. Neither is routine testing of the proper function of monitoring and safety systems. Both are just continuous, repetitive hard work. Both involve operating costs which are trivial compared with the costs of a major regional blackout. The industry and its regulators would be wise to do the simple, inexpensive, obvious things first while they are planning and executing the longer term giga-projects.

  2. As someone who once worked for an electric utility, I find this first summary point nearly obscene–high voltage transmission lines came into contact with trees, with three lines tripping out of service! While the other points are damning regarding surveilance, monitoring, and supervisory functions in their control room, the fact that something as basic as keeping rights of way clear, suggests that top management (along with the responsible line management) needs to be fired. I say this as someone who generally supports management versus other constituencies. They’ve failed at the most basic responsibility to keep their system reliable and functioning in the face of normal operating conditions.

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