Canton Repository

August 29, 2003

Congressional hearings on massive blackout to focus on Ohio connection

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — More than a dozen government officials and utility executives, including Gov. Bob Taft and others from Ohio, will testify before Congress next week on the possible causes of the largest power blackout in U.S. history.

Ohio has emerged as the likely origin of the Aug. 14 outage, which affected 50 million people in the United States and Canada. Investigators have focused on transmission lines south of Canton as the possible starting point of the cascading power loss.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced Thursday it will hold hearings starting next Wednesday to get up to speed on the latest findings from a U.S.-Canadian task force, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other organizations probing the blackout.

“I think we’re going to be able to put pieces of the puzzle together in the hearings,” said Ken Johnson, a spokesman for committee chairman W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, R-La.

While the hearings won’t produce all the answers, Johnson said they would help the committee determine if more needs to be included in an energy bill that is pending before Congress.

Not long after the committee announced the upcoming hearings, there was news of another blackout, the latest in London, England.

“If Congress does absolutely nothing, these latest blackouts offer us an eerie, unsettling peek into the future,” Tauzin said when he announced a congressional inquiry earlier this month.

Tauzin plans to grill witnesses on the possible cause of the blackout, the failure to prevent the outage from spreading and ways to improve reliability.

Governors of the key states affected by the blackout, including Taft, George Pataki of New York and Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, are scheduled to testify Wednesday.

Also on the agenda for Wednesday is Brantley Eldridge, executive manager of the East Central Area Reliability Council in Canton. The council, part of the North American Electric Reliability Council, also is investigating the blackout. Alan Schriber, chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, also will appear Wednesday.

On Thursday, key Ohio-based utility executives are scheduled to testify, including H. Peter Burg, chairman and chief executive officer of FirstEnergy Corp. and E. Linn Draper, chairman, president and chief executive officer of American Electric Power.