Florida Blackouts Update

A spokesman for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, known in the industry as NERC, says that the Outages in Florida would have been a lot worse had major changes to the grid not been made in the wake of the 2003 Northeast blackout. 

MIAMI — The power outage that left 1.2 million Florida homes and businesses in the dark Tuesday could have been worse without emergency measures adopted after the disastrous Northeast blackout of 2003, a power industry official said.

Numerous systems failed during the blackout, which left two nuclear power plants closed and knocked out traffic lights in dozens of communities.

"It wasn't just one thing that went wrong," said Stanley Johnson, manager of Situation Awareness and Infrastructure Security for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which oversees the U.S. power grid system. "In a sense, it's like the Challenger (space shuttle that exploded in 1986)."

The good news, Johnson said, is that power industry upgrades made after the 2003 Northeast blackout prevented the outage from cascading even farther into northern Florida and other states. That outage, the worst in U.S. history, left 50 million without power.

While largely hitting south Florida, Tuesday's outage cut a wide swath, shutting down power as far south as the Keys, north to Daytona Beach and west to Tampa.

Service was restored to all customers within hours. But two nuclear reactors that shut down during the outage as a safety precaution remain out of service, said April Schilpp, spokeswoman for Florida Power & Light.

The utility is also working to determine why the outages spread so widely. Johnson said probes by the electric reliability group and the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council could last weeks or months as officials use computer models to re-enact events.

As is usual in one of these stories, they get key details wrong in the sequence of events that they do know so far. They use voltage and current interchangeably – the two words are not. Here's a simple explanation of the two. 

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4 Responses to Florida Blackouts Update

  1. feeblemind says:

    I am very curious to learn what  happened and the article doesn’t provide many answers. It strikes me as mostly PR spin.

  2. sam says:

    The cause will probably be pretty technical and thus won’t make it into the general news.  Something like: " The 345 kV bus differential relay failed to operate when the fault occurred due to a wiring error.  The 345 kV Line A to B, Zone 2 distance relay reacted to the fault in the substation, tripping line Line A to B.  After 120 cycles, the overfrequency relay at Nuke C tripped offline to protect the generators, leading to a cascading loss of frequency on the system and underfrequency load shedding relay activations."  Or something like that . . .

  3. NortonPete says:

    This post is about a day and a half after the above post. CNN is reporting it was human error.
    http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/02/29/florida.outage/index.html
    CNN) — Preliminary results of an investigation show that Tuesday’s massive power outage in Florida was caused by human error, Florida Power and Light President Armando Olivera said Friday.
    A field engineer was diagnosing a switch that had malfunctioned at FPL’s Flagami substation in west Miami.
    Without authorization, the engineer disabled two levels of relay protection, Olivera said.
    "This was done contrary to FPL’s standard procedures and established practices," he said.
    Standard procedures do not allow the simultaneous removal of both levels of protection.
    "We don’t know why the employee took it upon himself to disable both sets of relays," he added.

  4. Gaius says:

    Yeah, I called it a relaying problem right after it happened. I think the field engineer is in a heap of trouble right now.

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