Blackout report too narrow, experts say

Role of U.S. in shaping industry ignored, they say


WASHINGTON - The immediate causes of the blackout Aug. 14 were made clear in a report issued last week. But various experts say the findings were too narrow, ignoring the federal government's role in the recent reshaping of the power industry.

Two organizations that operate in the part of Ohio where the problems originated - First Energy, a utility, and the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, a regional agency that was supposed to be overseeing FirstEnergy - were created as part of the deregulation process.

The report found that when the blackout hit, FirstEnergy and the Midwest ISO were poorly prepared for their responsibilities.

But the authors, including experts from the Energy Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, did not address the question of how the industry assumed its structure.

"Maybe the report doesn't go there because the answer is not one that's comfortable politically," said Alan H. Richardson, president of the American Public Power Association, a trade association for electric companies owned by states and cities. Richardson said an examination of the role of deregulation in the Midwest electric grid could have taken the Energy Department and the energy commission "to an area where they didn't want to go."

That area is the federal role in encouraging the creation of the Midwest ISO, which the report said had the computer tools to diagnose the electric grid in its territory and make prompt changes in response to line failures. But, the report said, "these systems are under development and not fully mature."

Industry experts say deregulation has led to more parties wanting to ship more power over the electric grid than its builders, a handful of old-fashioned utilities, had intended.

A spokeswoman for the Energy Department, Jeanne Lopatto, said the task force had followed the mandate laid out by President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. The report was an interim one, Lopatto said, and other experts were welcome to make suggestions at public hearings, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 4 in Cleveland, Dec. 5 in New York and Dec. 8 in Ottawa.

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