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Blackout Theory Blames a Tree

by John J. Fialka, Staff Reporter
Wall Street Journal - September 11, 2003

WASHINGTON -- A tree in Walton Hills, Ohio, may stand at the center of the nation's largest power blackout. After sagging into the tree at 3:32 EDT p.m. on Aug. 14, a FirstEnergy Corp. power line closed down, setting off a series of alarms that alerted company officials and the regional-power-system operator to the fact that something was wrong. But they weren't sure what.

Operators spent a half hour exploring the problem, while more company lines began shutting down, but they still didn't believe they were dealing with an unusual event. James P. Torgerson, president and chief executive of Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator Inc. said that since neither of two FirstEnergy lines that had shut down appeared to be overloaded, he didn't order the company to cut back its electricity load.

FirstEnergy has said a computer problem in its control room and failures experienced by other Midwest utilities may have contributed to the outage that affected 50 million people.

Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey suggested another factor: Several employees of FirstEnergy complained to him that a failure to follow traditional maintenance schedules by the company may have helped to bring on the outage.

Joseph DiNicola, spokesman for the Akron, Ohio, utility dismissed the charges as coming from union officials "choosing this issue to grind an ax."

Power lines overheat when they are overloaded and can then expand and sag into trees, causing a short circuit. But Mr. DiNicola said the first two FirstEnergy lines to fail were carrying much less electricity than their rated capacity.

John J. Fialka, Staff Reporter
Blackout Theory Blames a Tree
Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2003

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