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Homeland Security

Statement of Mr. William J. Museler

Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs

"Keeping the Lights On : The Federal Role in Managing the Nation's Electricity"

September, 10 2003


The New York Independent System Operator ("NYISO") operates New York's statewide high-voltage electric transmission system.  The exact causes of the August 14th cascading blackouts are still unknown and the NYISO will not speculate on them at this time.  It is clear, however, that New York and Ontario were directly in the path of massive power flows that took down major portions of the New York system in seconds.  The NYISO is cooperating with the International Commission's investigation and expects the Commission to provide the most definitive assessment of what happened.  The New York Department of Public Service is also conducting an inquiry with which the NYISO is, of course, cooperating.

The immediate electrical events that caused the blackout in New York occurred at 4:11:00 p.m.  Within a few seconds, the New York system was hit by onrushing power flows, reversals and severe frequency and load oscillations.  The transmission system was unable to withstand these severe conditions.  Approximately 20% of the load, however, continued to receive service during the disturbance. Unfortunately, New York City was completely without power at this point. 

Immediately after the event, the NYISO began implementation of its restoration plan.  Statewide service was completely restored by 10:30 p.m. Friday, August 15th.  The restoration process followed NYISO's pre-arranged plan and worked well.  Furthermore, preliminary analysis indicates that New York systems operated as designed.  However, it appears that the power swings experienced by New York were beyond what the power system was designed to withstand.  The complex protective mechanisms installed on New York's transmission system and power plants worked as intended and no significant damage to the infrastructure resulted.

Even though it is not yet clear what the cause or causes were of  the August 14 blackout, it is clear that many actions need to be taken to avoid future problems.  These actions include:  (i) making mandatory reliability standards and certain operating protocols set by the North American Electric Reliability Council ("NERC"); (ii) making mandatory the incorporation of power systems into ISOs and RTOs; (iii) strengthening the transmission grid in New York state and surrounding areas; and (iv) enhancing the inter-regional planning process.




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