AmerenUE officials- Massive power outage not likely in Missouri

Saturday, August 16, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- A massive power outage could happen in Missouri, but it's unlikely because power generators are closer to the demand here, officials with the state's largest electric company said Friday.

Unlike Missouri, much of the East has to import its power long distances, said Tom Voss, senior vice president of energy delivery for AmerenUE.

Missouri's central location is another advantage. AmerenUE spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said the company is probably the best interconnected utility in the nation.

"We are tied in all directions versus if you're in New York, you can't get power from the east because that's the ocean," Voss said. "We're centrally located and have strong transmission ties. It can happen, but it's less likely."

Thursday's power outage -- the largest power blackout in U.S. history -- rolled across a large swath of northern United States and southern Canada, affecting 50 million people. Utilities on both sides of the Canadian-U.S. border still are searching for the cause.

The outage was isolated to the East and resolved itself before it could spread to Missouri.

Voss said when the blackout occurred, and normal demand abruptly dropped, relaying devices signaled plants to stop generating power.

"The system disconnected from us," he said. "The system started to heal itself, tripping off transmission lines and generators."

Once the grid reached a balance of power generation and demand, the system stabilized.

He doubted Thursday's blackout was due to excessive energy demand, but rather equipment failure or lightning striking a transmission line.

Voss said he cannot recall a blackout in his 34 years at AmerenUE, although occasionally transformers have been overloaded.

A professor at the University of Missouri-Rolla believes that antiquated transmission lines might have contributed to the blackout.

Mariesa Crow, professor of electricity and computer engineering, suspects that excess demand sucked power across transmission lines that could not accommodate the load.

"It's like a big traffic jam," she said. "We have lots of cars but not enough highway."

She said the transmission system is being built continually, but rather than take out old technology, the new is built on top of the old.

The solution, she said, is to add more transmission lines.

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