Friday, October 17, 2003

Utilities get no-blackout tips

Watchdog group's letter suggests preventive steps

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - A watchdog group has given utilities several recommendations how to avoid another blackout like the one in August that darkened homes and businesses in eight states.

They include making sure there is enough voltage for the power grid, ensuring reliable communication among utilities and clearing vegetation from transmission lines.

The advice from the North American Electric Reliability Council went out Wednesday in a three-page letter to utilities and others who control the grid.

"We certainly think that it makes sense," said Ralph DiNicola, spokesman for Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. "We have every intention of responding as they've requested."

The letter provides insight into the blackout investigation.

"This letter was prepared with input from the investigative team," said Ellen Vancko, spokeswoman for the New Jersey-based council. The letter does not draw conclusions, but it does indicate where investigators have found problems, she said.

The letter recommends the following steps:

• Make sure there is enough voltage for the grid, including so-called "reactive power" - a portion of the energy moving through power lines that is essential for keeping proper voltage levels.

• Ensure reliable communication among all the companies and groups responsible for maintaining and using the grid.

• Have formal systems to notify control-room officials when equipment undergoes critical failures.

• Have emergency action plans and procedures.

• Train for emergencies.

• Cut trees and other vegetation in transmission-line rights of way.

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