Ohio Regulators Order FirstEnergy to Make Improvements after Blackout Report

- Nov. 26--State utility regulators on Tuesday gave FirstEnergy Corp. a March 1 deadline to come up with a plan to upgrade its computer systems and improve employee training in the aftermath of the Aug. 14 blackout.

The order by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is the first official action directed at FirstEnergy since last week, when a U.S.- Canadian task force said the Akron utility was largely responsible for blacking out eight states and parts of Canada. The PUCO acted at the behest of Gov. Bob Taft.

The international task force said FirstEnergy failed to properly trim trees and vegetation along its high-voltage power lines, and also fell short in meeting other voluntary industry standards involving its computers and training. The task force plans to issue a follow-up report that will include ways to prevent similar widespread outages.

FirstEnergy is disputing the report, but a spokeswoman said the company will work with regulators to meet the state's deadline. FirstEnergy had planned before the blackout to replace its computer system, spokeswoman Ellen Raines said.

The PUCO's order did not address tree-trimming issues or tell FirstEnergy to make its transmission lines more reliable.

"We think the trees are well-trimmed by now," PUCO Chairman Alan Schriber said.

Ohio's directive to FirstEnergy came after Congress failed to pass an energy bill this year that would include mandatory national reliability standards for the electric grid, Schriber said.

"We think this is a first step," Schriber said. "I think the message is fairly clear. We do not believe a company should operate below standards, even if they are voluntary."

The PUCO order calls for FirstEnergy to come up with a plan that will create better system controls that would have helped the company ward off the problems it was experiencing Aug. 14, Schriber said. The plan must say how FirstEnergy plans to improve its computer hardware and software, and how it will improve control- room operator training. FirstEnergy's plan will be reviewed by the staffs of PUCO and the North American Electric Reliability Council, the New Jersey-based organization that sets voluntary reliability standards for the industry.

Taft's chief spokesman said the PUCO order addresses the governor's concerns.

"The governor is pleased that PUCO took quick action and set a short but realistic timeline for FirstEnergy to submit a plan detailing how the company will address their shortcomings in regard to reliability issues that were brought up in the binational task force report," said Orest Holubec, Taft's press secretary.



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