WASHINGTON (AP) — Disregard for voluntary rules intended
to ensure the flow of electricity opened the way for last
summer’s blackout in eight states and Canada, investigators
said yesterday in their final report. They urged government
standards with teeth to ward off future outages.

There was a clear understanding long before the blackout last
August that the Ohio region where the problems began was highly
vulnerable to grid instability, said the report from a joint
U.S.-Canada task force.

Had the situation been properly addressed, the cascading
blackout that sped across states from Michigan to New York and into
Canada probably would have been averted, the report concluded.
Something as simple as shutting off 200 megawatts of power an hour
before the blackout might have kept the problem from spreading,
investigators said.

But FirstEnergy Corp., the Ohio utility whose lines initially
failed, had little understanding of its own power transmission
system because it had not carried out the recommended long-term
planning and safeguards — and backup monitoring system
— that it needed, the report said.

Many of those safeguards and procedures aimed at detecting and
responding to potentially devastating system problems, were
outlined — but also ignored — under voluntary industry
standards that were in place, the report states.

Investigators said they found at least seven violations of
industry-sponsored North America Electric Reliability Council
(NERC) reliability rules linked to the blackout.

The task force, created by the U.S. and Canadian governments to
examine the nation’s worst blackout, urged creation of
mandatory government reliability standards with penalties for those
who violate them. NERC, which issues the voluntary standards, has
no enforcement authority.

It’s been eight months since the blackout, and Congress
has yet to act on any measures that might improve grid reliability.
Provisions to establish mandatory rules on the electricity industry
have been caught up in a partisan fight over broader energy
legislation.

In a statement responding to the task force conclusions, Sen.
Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who has struggled for 15 months to push an
energy bill through Congress, said the report “clearly says
this blackout could have been avoided.”

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