(Extensions of Remarks - December 09, 2003)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E2488-E2489]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                          AUGUST 14TH BLACKOUT


                          HON. EDOLPHUS TOWNS

                              of new york

                    in the house of representatives

                        Monday, December 8, 2003

  Mr. TOWNS. Mr. Speaker, I rise to comment on the Bush 
Administration's report on the August 14 blackout that left millions of 
people in New York without power, some for days.
  The U.S.-Canadian outage task force on November 19 issued a report 
titled ``Causes of the August 14th Blackout in the United States and 
Canada,'' saying 50 million people from Indiana to Massachusetts and 
Canada went without electricity because of untrimmed trees and a 
computer glitch. But the New York Times reported on November 25 that 
``a variety of experts now say the [report's] findings were too narrow, 
ignoring the federal government's role in the recent reshaping of the 
power industry.''
  We need to know what the truth is. The Times has reported on the 
blackout as thoroughly as anyone, so this report is very important. 
Maybe we need an impartial investigator to follow up on what they are 
  In the November 25 article, Alan Richardson of the American Public 
Power Association says that maybe the federal government didn't address 
what mistakes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) made in 
breaking up the utility industry ``because the answer is not one that's 
comfortable politically.''
  Commenting on the organization the FERC approved to run the 
transmission wires in the Midwest, transmission expert Robert Blohm is 
quoted in the article as saying ``How come nobody has examined this 
horror story, of how they set up an entity 10 times more complex than 
any known one, in such a short period of time?''
  John Casazza, a retired executive from a New Jersey utility, says in 
the article that ``There are a lot of aspects in this blackout that 
have not been touched by [the Administration's] report. . . . The root 
causes are what has happened as a result of our government policy.''
  If the experts think policy set by the government is the cause of the 
blackout, why are the government officials who made these bad policy 
decisions the ones that are writing the report on what caused the 
  Back on September 23, the Times reported that ``Experts now think 
that on Aug. 14, northern Ohio had a severe shortage of reactive power, 
which ultimately caused the power plant and transmission line failures 
that set the blackout in motion. Demand for reactive power was 
unusually high because of a large volume of long-distance transmissions 
streaming through Ohio to areas, including Canada, that needed to 
import power to meet local demand.'' These long-distance transmissions 
were mainly by ``independent power producers,'' or IPPs, who often do 
not produce any reactive power. The article quoted Raymond Palmieri, 
who is responsible for transmission reliability in the Midwest, as 
saying reactive power ``is definitely a contributor'' to the blackout.
  Who has been pushing for these long-distance transmissions by IPPs? 
The FERC. They had experts saying for at least two months before the 
official blackout report came out that it was a problem. But what did 
that official blackout report, which FERC and the DOE directed and 
wrote, say about the role of reactive power and IPPs? ``[T]he 
suggestion that IPPs may have  contributed to the difficulties of 
reliability management on August 14 because they don't provide reactive 
power is misplaced.''

  There is nothing wrong with independent power producers. They perform 
a valuable role in meeting the nation's electricity needs. But if the 
government's blackout report barely even mentions the role of reactive 
power, and doesn't mention at all whether, in light of more long 
distance transmissions, someone should have changed the rules to make 
sure there was enough of it, when experts say it was ``definitely a 
contributor,'' something isn't right.
  While the FERC has been pushing for more long-distance transmission, 
Congress has been hearing from experts that the transmission system 
wasn't designed to operate that way, and that using it for long-
distance transmission reduces reliability. At the House Energy and 
Commerce Committee's blackout hearing on September 4, Gene McGrath, the 
CEO of Consolidated Edison, said ``I think as an engineer and as an 
operator having the generation as close to the load center as it can be 
done is the best interest of everybody. . . . [A]s you separate 
generation from load you introduce another component. As you introduce 
other components you can introduce costs and you can introduce 
reliability problems.'' That is, generating the power two or three 
States away causes problems. We need to have the power generated close 
to where it is used.
  Is that issue even discussed in the Administration's blackout report? 
No--not even a little bit.
  Mr. Speaker, my constituents went without power on August 14. It's 
not just an inconvenience, it's a danger in many cases to be left 
without electricity. Life-support equipment, traffic signals, 
elevators, and so many other important devices all depend on 
electricity. But we seem to have a situation where our own government's 
review of the blackout steers away from even looking into what seem to 
be very important contributing factors.
  FERC Chairman Pat Wood testified before the House Energy and Commerce 
Committee many times in the past couple of years, telling

[[Page E2489]]

us that to maintain reliability for the wholesale markets his policies 
promote, we need to beef up the transmission grid. But now that we've 
had the biggest blackout in our history, FERC doesn't admit its 
policies that stress the grid had anything to do with it. Chairman 
Wood's Senate testimony on November 20 was ``the [transmission] 
operator's primary charge is to work the system you've got. . . . 
Markets do not compromise reliability.'' So no matter if FERC sprayed 
water on the road in the freezing cold, it's your fault if you crash 
your car.
  If we don't get an accurate picture from government investigators 
about the causes of the blackout, we will be dooming ourselves to more 
disruptions, dangers, and inconveniences in the future. I am not 
willing to allow that.
  I ask that we consider whether we need an independent investigation 
of the causes of the blackout so we can do what needs to be done to 
prevent the next blackout from occurring.