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German power firm defends investment after Europe-wide blackout

BERLIN -- A German utility confirmed it caused a weekend outage that left millions of people in several countries without power, but denied Monday that the blackout revealed a lack of investment in Europe's power grids.

E.On AG said it switched off a high-voltage transmission line over a German river on Saturday night under an aborted plan to allow a newly built Norwegian cruise ship to pass safely.

That triggered a blackout that briefly left 10 million people in countries including Germany, France, Italy and Spain without power, stopping trains in their tracks and trapping people in elevators.

Officials at the European Commission in Brussels said the outage showed the vulnerability of the 25-nation EU without proper management of energy transmissions across national boundaries.

"Events in one part of Europe impact on other parts and once again confirm the need for a proper European energy policy," EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said in a statement.

"Whilst these blackouts lasted for relatively short periods of time, they are unacceptable."

Piebalgs said he would soon meet with national energy regulators "to draw the lessons of this blackout," according to EU spokesman Ferran Tarradellas Espuny.

The EU commission had already planned to unveil a major energy security plan in January, and Tarradellas Espuny said the weekend blackout added urgency to the need for grid operators to develop binding and uniform network security standards.

"Networks are not isolated. We have a Europe-wide network and it has to be managed at a European level," he said.

European national leaders including Italian premier Romano Prodi are also calling for better coordination of Europe's increasingly interlinked electricity grids as well as more investment.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday that the outage showed the need for a common EU energy policy -- something Germany has vowed to pursue when it holds the union's rotating presidency next year.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel accused German power firms of failing to tackle known "bottlenecks" in their networks. The companies have agreed to build 530 miles of new transmission lines and "the investment for that must flow now," Gabriel said on NDR radio.

But a senior executive with E.On denied that the blackout revealed a lack of investment.

"The networks are in good condition and are constantly maintained. We are investing in these networks," Klaus-Dieter Maubach said on Germany's ZDF television.

Maubach said E.On would spend $3.6 billion in the coming years to improve and expand its electricity networks.


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