It took an unfortunate series of events to trigger the largest blackout in U.S. history on Aug. 14, 2003. As the Chairman of the New York State Public Service Commission at the time, Partner Bill Flynn had the unenviable task of telling the state that turning the power back on would be more complicated than just flipping a switch.
Power restoration requires a careful balancing of supply and demand – putting just enough electricity back into lines to match their capacity and the needs of the public. And so it was on that day, Bill recalled this week on an industry panel discussing lessons learned from the 2003 blackout.
The state’s Independent Service Organization and utilities, panelists said, had to work together to add generation and demand at exactly the same time. In most instances, that meant going line by line to ensure the synchronization was perfect, for going too fast risked sending the system back into instability, and that would have been “untenable,” Bill told the Webinar.
Bill, now leader of the Harris Beach Energy Industry Team, was joined on the WIRES Group webinar with Richard Dewey, President and Chief Executive Officer at the New York Independent System Operator; Joseph Kelliher, who at the time of the blackout was Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and Larry Gasteiger, Executive Director of WIRES.
The 2003 blackout cast more than 50 million people into darkness. Events triggering the blackout began in Ohio and spread quickly to New York, other Northeastern states and southern Ontario.
Bill, Richard, Joseph and Larry focused their conversation on changes made in the aftermath of the blackout as well as long-term reforms to prevent anything similar from happening again.
This included implementation of new nationwide reliability standards for state regulators to meet. New York made its own set of changes, Bill said, and together “to this day, those changes and recommendations are protecting us from something like this ever happening again.” The differences in many instances are “night and day from where we were in 2003,” Rich Dewey said.
Observations from the panelists carry relevance today in light of the state’s aggressive plans to convert the New York electric grid to renewable energy over the next two decades. The state is pushing for a zero-emissions grid by 2040, in part through addition of major wind farms off the coast of Long Island.
The path to achieving that goal requires a renewed focus on investing in new, modernized transmission capabilities to take wind and solar power from the points of generation to provide power to homes and businesses. Earlier this week, for instance, New York Transco joined state and community elected officials, as well as agency and union leaders, to celebrate the electrification of 55 miles of new transmission lines into the Hudson Valley as part of the New York Energy Solution.
“I think the effort here in New York has been second to none,” Bill said, noting that there are always growing pains. “There’s a lot of effort and thought put into it, and it’s a long process, but I’ve been privileged enough to represent people who have gone through this process….and it’s so far, so good.”
To view a replay of the WIRES Group panel: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/9073810301048587872
To read more on changes to the grid nationally in the wake of the 2003 blackout: https://news.bloomberglaw.com/environment-and-energy/major-us-blackout-anniversary-renews-call-for-power-grid-updates