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Second Anniversary of Northeast Blackout Marked with Progress

August 12, 2005 - 2:41pm


Electric Reliability Standards Made Clearer and Enforceable

WASHINGTON, DC – Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman today marked the second anniversary of the Northeast blackout during which 50 million Americans lost electricity by highlighting important progress that has been made to make North American electricity grids more reliable.

"Two years ago, American families and businesses throughout the Northeast were plunged into darkness because of multiple factors leading to the failure of the power grid. Since that time, we’ve made significant improvements, but more work remains to be done," Secretary Bodman said. "As we continue to improve our electricity grid, the Energy Bill signed by President Bush will greatly assist our efforts by increasing investment in infrastructure, improving power generation and requiring a high standard of reliability." Secretary Bodman said.

On August 14, 2003, Americans throughout the Northeast lost electricity when problems at a utility in northern Ohio began a chain reaction of events that led to power outages lasting, in some places, several days. Since that time, the U.S. and Canadian governments, working with industry, have sought to ensure that all parties with responsibilities for grid management have the equipment and training needed to maintain safe, orderly operations under unusual or adverse conditions.

More specifically, the blackout triggered a massive investigation and collaborative effort between the U.S. and Canadian governments and the electricity industry to prevent or reduce the scope of future such events; the final joint U.S. – Canadian report was published in April 2004.

Since the report was published, significant progress has been made:

  • Enactment in the United States of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which makes compliance by electric utilities and other companies with reliability standard mandatory and enforceable under federal law;
  • Establishment of an electric reliability division at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which will advise the commission on standards proposed by industry-based organizations;
  • The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) revised its existing reliability standards to clarify what constitutes compliance with them;
  • A commitment by NERC and the industry to develop reliability standards on new subjects, such as management of tree growth in transmission line rights-of-way, operator training requirements, and real-time diagnostic and analytic tools for managing power flows on the power grids;
  • Establishment of a Reliability Readiness Audit program at NERC. This program verifies that companies and organizations with responsibilities for real-time grid management have the training and equipment needed to maintain safe operations under unusual or adverse conditions;
  • Establishment of NERC's Guidelines for Reporting and Disclosure, specifying that all confirmed violations of NERC standards are to be made public, including the identities of the violators;
  • An initiative to establish multi-state networks of sensors to provide grid operators and regional reliability coordinators with real-time early warning of potentially dangerous grid situations, and;
  • Establishment of a team of senior staff from the Department of Energy (DOE), FERC, and appropriate government agencies in Canada to provide coordinated guidance and direction on an ongoing basis to NERC (and to the Electric Reliability Organization envisioned in the Energy Policy Act of 2005).

In addition, the Energy Department and others are currently working to complete a number of other issues. They include:

  • As part of the Energy Bill, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will issue regulations for certification of the Electric Reliability Organization (ERO), and certify one applicant as the ERO. The ERO will work with the electricity industry in developing technically sound reliability standards that it will propose to FERC. If approved, these standards will be enforceable under federal law;
  • Completion and approval of reliability standards on several new subjects. One of the most important of the new standards will set requirements to improve the security of grid-related cyber systems;
  • Full deployment and use of wide-area visualization and early-warning tools for grid operators, and;
  • Completion of several studies and reviews NERC has under way to determine "best practices" concerning grid management.

Media contact:
Craig Stevens, 202/586-4940