December 9, 2003 - Issue: Vol. 149, No. 176 — Daily Edition108th Congress (2003 - 2004) - 1st Session
AUGUST 14TH BLACKOUT
(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 [www.gpo.gov] 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 reporting. 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 blackout? 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. ____________________