New York Power Authority Chief Cites Need for Strong Reliability Standards

Michael Saltzman
(914) 390-8181

January 29, 2004


TORONTO–New York Power Authority Chairman Louis P. Ciminelli said here Thursday that “putting mandatory, enforceable standards in place on an international basis” is essential to resolving the reliability challenges that led to last August’s blackout in Ontario and the Northeastern and Midwestern United States.

“It is undeniably true that competition and deregulation have put increased strains on a power system that was not designed to carry large amounts of electricity over long distances,” Ciminelli said at a Conference Board of Canada program.

“However,” he said, “the blackout was due not to deregulation, but to a combination of human error, computer and communication problems and, most important, the absence of mandatory and enforceable reliability standards.”

Ciminelli said the blackout, which began in Ohio, had shown that problems can quickly spread between states and across the international border.

As a result, he said, “there have been calls in Canada for increased emphasis on an east-west domestic grid as opposed to the north-south ties to the United States.”

“But,” he added, “we must not retreat into a form of protectionism in electricity trade that would run counter to both our history and our best interests. And we must not permit the blackout to provide a rationale for reversing efforts on both sides of the border to create competitive, restructured electricity markets.”

Ciminelli said that participants in the North American electricity markets must acknowledge that deregulation and the greater flow of electricity between different areas have created new reliability challenges.

He pointed out that the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) had established voluntary reliability standards in the wake of the 1965 blackout in much the same area as the 2003 power failure.

But voluntary standards are not good enough, he said, noting that there were 444 violations of NERC’s rules in 2002 alone and that the U.S.-Canada Task Force that analyzed last August’s blackout cited six that contributed directly to the problems.

Ciminelli noted that a comprehensive energy bill, thus far stalled in the U.S. Senate, would provide for establishment and enforcement of mandatory national standards.

“Once the situation is settled in the U.S., it should be feasible to devise a single set of standards that are truly international in scope,” he said.

Ciminelli noted a number of other initiatives that could improve reliability, including encouraging membership in regional or state transmission organizations with clear operational authority; siting new power plants closer to consumers; implementing technological improvements to the transmission system; building new transmission lines in selected areas; and promoting energy efficiency.

He said maximum benefits to Canada and the United States will result from mandatory standards and other improvements only if the strong spirit of cooperation between the two countries continues in planning and operating a North American power grid “that functions without regard to international borders.”

“Fortunately, this spirit of cooperation is very much in keeping with the history and traditions of our two countries,” said Ciminelli, who noted that the Power Authority and Ontario Hydro joined forces in the 1950s to build a large hydroelectric project on the St. Lawrence River.

He cited the words on a monument at the center of the project’s power dam: “This stone bears witness to the common purpose of two nations whose frontiers are the frontiers of friendship, whose ways are the ways of freedom, and whose works are the works of peace.”