...unaware of it. FirstEnergy and regional grid operators figured it out in the control room at 3:41 p.m. the day of the blackout when control room lights flickered. By then it was too late to stabilize the grid and prevent the blackout that struck the Northeast a half-hour later.

Three of the report’s recommendations focus on the need for constant, real-time data on the state of the grid and development of better modeling procedures and tools. Pilot projects now in progress will test Wide Area Monitoring Systems in a few key locations, with the ultimate goal of something far more widespread. WAMS monitor the stability of the power in the grid and would provide a flow of data that could be used to analyze, monitor and modulate operations in real time.

The cyber-upgrade required also includes time-synchronizing all data recorders. Investigators found that data recorded in different locations often was logged on unsynchronized clocks. Some events that happened simultaneously were recorded as having happened as much as seven minutes apart. With time-synchronized recorders, Global Positioning Satellite signal timing could be used to ensure they were all set to the same clock.


Phasor measurement units (PMU) in current and potential transformers can sense data on current and voltage and calculate the power flow and phase angle. The New York Power Authority has had PMUs in service since 1990. Six are currently in place, and the utility is installing two more, says Bruce Fardanesh, White Plains-based NYPA research engineer. They function by taking a snapshot of the system for later analysis when triggered by an event, he says. But NYPA is participating in a Dept. of Energy project, the Eastern Interconnection Phasor Project, to channel PMU data to a central location for real-time monitoring. Fardanesh hopes to have the program complete by the end of this year. Several other utilities are participating, he says.

ABB’s McCorkle says utilities in the West are more likely to invest in their transmission systems. He cites projects for San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Pacific Gas & Electric Co., all focused on improving power quality and reliability. “[California utilities] just seem to be more progressive,” he says.

PG&E, for example, is putting capacitor banks in its high-voltage transmission system, which can help support system voltage. ABB is performing a $100-million upgrade of a high-voltage direct-current converter station in Sylmar for Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power to compensate for problems in the aging transmission system from the Pacific Northwest.

“My sense is that there may be an 18 to 24-month lag in transmission investments that might have been stimulated by that blackout,” says William A. Koertner, president and CEO of MYR Group Inc., Rolling Meadows, Ill. “I don’t think the investment will be in new poles and lines.” Instead, he expects it to be in data gathering and communications.

Despite the report’s call for regulatory reform, “I don’t see anything happening on the regulatory front until after the elections,” says John R. Colson, president, chairman and CEO of Quanta Services Inc., Houston. “It’s mostly just talk. No one is addressing the overpowering need for transmission system overhaul.”

But Black & Veatch, Kansas City, is “very busy” with system studies, and that’s a leading indicator, says Dean Oskvig, president of power delivery.