Blackout Has Washington Considering More Regulation

Published October 1, 2003

In the wake of the August 14 northeastern blackout, momentum is building for mandatory federal electric reliability standards.

“For many years, the reliability of electricity in America depended on companies observing voluntary standards to prevent blackouts,” said President George W. Bush in an August 21 speech in Redmond, Oregon. “I don’t think those standards ought to be voluntary.

“I think they ought to mandatory,” Bush continued. “And if there’s no reliability backup for electricity, there ought to be a serious consequence for somebody who misuses the public trust. And Congress needs to have that in a law.”

The competing House and Senate energy bills each have electricity reliability provisions. Making such provisions mandatory will require some reworking of the bills in a joint conference.

Many power companies share Bush’s support for mandatory standards.

“As long as industry was active in the development of national reliability standards, I don’t think we would have a problem with that,” said Van Wardlaw, vice president of electrical operations for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“The electric utility industry recognizes the crucial importance of reinforcing the reliability of what we believe is the best electric power system in the world,” said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute. “While there is clearly no single magic bullet to achieve this, we believe strongly that House and Senate lawmakers have an unparalleled opportunity to craft a final legislative product that contains critically important steps to help ensure electric system reliability and transmission capacity.”

“We stand firmly in support of mandatory reliability standards with a compliance and enforcement component and FERC oversight,” added Jack Hawks of the Electric Power Supply Association.

Reaching consensus on the specifics of any new standards, however, may prove difficult.

“There’s a real danger of a stalemate,” said Kentucky Governor Paul Patton (D) at the National Governors Association annual meeting in Indianapolis. “Every part of the nation has a different perspective on it. This will be a real test of our ability as a nation to figure out how to get by this problem.”

The push in Washington for federal standards is also meeting resistance at the state level.

“The concern the governors have about the recent blackout is that it may prompt the federal government to think there needs to be a federal solution to this energy issue as it relates to transmission,” said Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (D). “Governors do that role.”

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].