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Too soon to call for grid overhaul

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'It's a wake-up call," said President Bush. "The grid needs to be modernized, the delivery systems need to be modernized. We've got an antiquated system." Former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson called for passage of the Bush administration's energy bill.

President Bush and Mr. Richardson, governor of New Mexico, were responding to questions regarding the massive electrical blackout that occurred around 4:10 p.m. Aug. 14, disrupting the daily lives of a reported 50 million people in New York state, New England, the upper Midwest, and Canada.

But the president's energy bill may have little to do with either the blackout or providing safe, reliable, low-cost electricity. It's much too soon to say what's needed. At the time of this writing, the precise cause of last week's blackout is yet to be determined.

What we do know is the systems that are supposed to prevent this type of blackout didn't. The power system is protected, or kept intact, by a large, complex system of sensors, relays, and computers - the System Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system.

The SCADA system is designed to isolate the component of the power system that is malfunctioning, and the power system itself is designed to function normally with any one, or more, of its components out of service. As a last resort, the power system is designed to break into "islands" with each island having sufficient electric generation to meet the needs of the consumers in that island.

Apparently, this island operation did not take place, or at least it did not take place throughout the region of the blackout.

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