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Agency Offers More Than 20 Recommendations to Prevent Power Grid Failure

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - February 20, 2003 The agency responsible for ensuring the reliability of the North American power grid said it is moving swiftly to prevent blackouts like the one Aug. 14 that stretched from New York to Michigan.

The North American Electric Reliability Council, or NERC, handed down more than 20 recommendations last week, and on Thursday the council's top official emphasized that audits of the power grid would be completed by June 30.

"The board recognizes that we must do everything within our power to regain the public's trust," said Mike Gent, NERC's president and chief executive.

While most of the recommendations are directed at operators of the transmission system and NERC itself, several are aimed at utilities. A spokeswoman for Decatur, Ill.-based Illinois Power Co. said her company stood ready to make changes. St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. also is expected to comply.

Ameren owns three utilities in Illinois and Missouri, and is in the process of buying Illinois Power for $2.3 billion.

NERC's recommendations will have a relatively small impact on Illinois Power. For example, the utility already complies with a recommendation to document outages caused by trees and other vegetation.

Illinois Power and Ameren's subsidiaries will have to turn over their tree-related outage data to the Mid-American Interconnected Network Inc., or MAIN, a regional reliability council affiliated with NERC.

"It will just be a matter of working with MAIN to develop reporting," said Shirley Swarthout, a spokeswoman for Illinois Power.

All utilities will have to provide five days of emergency response training to those employees responsible for moving electricity through the transmission grid. In Illinois Power's case, five to 10 workers must undergo the training.

Those employees already receive significant training, Swarthout said.

"Our normal training includes emergencies," she said. "But this is five days over and above that. It's longer and more intense."

In addition, utilities must evaluate sections of their transmission lines by Sept. 30 and make changes later if necessary.

"If our review suggests that changes are needed, we will prepare a plan for getting it done," Swarthout said.

Illinois Power has not yet calculated the cost to comply with NERC's recommendations, she said.

Ameren officials were not available for comment Thursday.

No Illinois Power or Ameren customers were affected by the blackout last summer. However, both companies soon will be members of Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, or MISO, which controls 111,000 miles of transmission lines in the central United States and Manitoba, Canada.

MISO was singled out by NERC for mistakes that led to the cascading blackout. Under NERC's recommendations, MISO must undertake additional measures, including upgrading diagnostic equipment, expanding training and improving communications among its member utilities.

POWERING UP THE GRID: The North American Electric Reliability Council has made more than 20 recommendations to improve the power grid. Among them:

Employees with responsibility for the transmission grid must receive five days of training and drills in system emergencies.

Transmission-line outages caused by vegetation must be documented and reported to NERC.

By Jan. 1, NERC must have a system to monitor and evaluate the grid's performance.

Violations of NERC standards and policies must be reported to the agency within a month.

Violations must be corrected within a specified time.

Reliability and emergency preparedness audits of the transmission grid will be conducted every three years.


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(c) 2004, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.