DOE Issues Outage Report, Makes Recommendations

An interim report released by the U.S. Department of Energy states that while the electric utility industry is “in the midst of evolutionary change,” reliability problems witnessed in the summer of 1999 show that “the necessary operating practices, regulatory policies and technological tools for dealing with the changes are not yet in place to assure an acceptable level of reliability.”

The interim report (available on the Web at tis.eh.doe.gov/post/report.html) was produced by the DOE’s Power Outage Study Team (POST). Energy Secretary Bill Richardson formed POST in August 1999 to investigate the electric power outages that occurred during that summer and to recommend federal actions to prevent future disturbances. For the report, POST studied outages in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, the Delmarva (Delaware/Maryland/Virginia) peninsula, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Chicago.

POST found that the development of reliability management reforms, tools, technologies and operating procedures has lagged behind economic reform in the electric industry. In anticipation of a competitive environment, some utilities have reduced costs by decreasing their spending on reliability, the report states. The report also notes that responsibility for reliability management has been spread among multiple parties. The effect of these events has been an eroded reliability assurance infrastructure.

The POST investigation also found that:

  • An aging infrastructure and increased demand for power have strained transmission and distribution systems to the point of interrupting service.
  • State and federal regulatory policies in many cases do not provide adequate incentives for utilities to maintain and upgrade facilities.
  • Load forecasting techniques in many cases are inadequate, and information on equipment status and condition often is unavailable to system operators.
  • Necessary tools for collecting and integrating real-time information need to be funded, developed, tested and implemented to aid operations in competitive markets.
  • System operators need improved tools and flexibility to anticipate outage events and prevent small emergencies from growing.

In response to the report, Secretary Richardson said that, “Congress needs to pass the administration’s electricity competition legislation in order to address many of the uncertainties that exist as the industry transitions to a new restructured environment.”

In March, POST will issue a final report that will provide further recommendations. That report will be followed by regional policy-level discussions across the country among industry leaders and federal, local and state government officials.

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