LANSING (AP) – A congressional committee looking into how and why last month’s blackout happened will hear from Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) planned to take testimony today and tomorrow on the blackout, which swept across eight states and parts of Canada on Aug. 14. About 50 million customers, 2.3 million in Michigan, lost power.
In her prepared testimony, Granholm said International Transmission Co., based in Ann Arbor, has traced the timeline on actions that contributed to the blackout back to one hour and five minutes before it occurred. But she said ITC and DTE Energy said they were unaware of any problem or any unusual activity on the grid until just a few minutes before the blackout.
“If they had been informed during the previous hour that the system was having problems, they may have been able to craft a contingency plan for the energy demand and delivery, and avoid the cascading failure,” Granholm said.
She also said that restructuring of the utility market, while it has had many positive results, has made it harder to determine who is responsible for what because power companies sold off their transmission systems to separate operators.
“The bottom line is that this contributes to a system where no one, myself included, knows who is ultimately responsible for ensuring reliability. That is an unacceptable situation,” she said.
Granholm and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft will call for Congress to enact new federal electricity grid reliability standards, replacing the voluntary standards that most now agree are inadequate.
In a letter to House investigators, the chief executive of a major Michigan utility says he is convinced that a power plant shutdown and transmission line failures in Ohio “were the triggering event for the blackout” and that an “apparent failure in communication” was a major reason the problem spread.
“For some reason, the required level of communications and coordination failed on Aug. 14,” Anthony Earley Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of DTE Energy, wrote the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He said this “apparent breakdown in communications between the Ohio utilities and other utility systems” must be dealt with.
Earley, whose Detroit Edison serves 5 million people in southeastern Michigan, complained that “Michigan utilities did not have timely or adequate warnings about deteriorating systems condition in Ohio” during the hour before the blackout.
He said Detroit Edison did not begin to detect anything unusual until 4:06 p.m., five minutes before the blackout hit full force in all or parts of eight states. Investigators said the first of five transmission line failures in Ohio began occurring an hour earlier.
Granholm, Kilpatrick and Michigan Public Service Commission Chairman Peter Lark were scheduled to testify today. Joseph Welch, chief executive of ITC, is to testify tomorrow.
Lark and Granholm said they’ve been asked to answer questions on the factors and events leading up to the blackout, which systems operated as designed and which systems failed, the lessons learned from the blackout, and ways to prevent future outages.
Kilpatrick planned to talk about the financial impact of the blackout.
“We see this as a good opportunity to engage and educate the federal government on the financial assistance cities need to fully prepare for emergencies, particularly during these challenging economic times,” Kilpatrick said in a statement.
Tauzin has promised President Bush that a comprehensive energy bill will be ready by the end of September for final congressional action.
“We have a number of very strong provisions in our bill dealing with electricity, but we need to find out if additional steps are needed,” Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said.