WATCH ABOVE: 12 years after massive blackout, energy experts say grid much more stable. Mark Carcasole reports.
TORONTO —; August 14th, 2003 was one of those “I remember where I was when…” days.
Hard to believe it has been 12 years already, but that was the day that Ontario and parts of the northeast and midwest U.S. lost power due to a catastrophic series of failures along the grid.
It all started in Ohio, when power lines and overgrown trees that should have been maintained by local energy supplier FirstEnergy made contact.
“There was a cascade failure,” recalls independent energy advisor Tom Adams.
“One small failure led to another, then multiple failures causing a big wave of electrical disruption that started knocking power plants offline.”
As skeptical as many like to be about the grid, Adams says cooperation among those running our power system has come a long, much-needed way.
“There’s a much higher level of integration,” he said.
“The people that are responsible for grid reliability in one area get prior notice in case a neighbour is getting close to the line of these types of security problems.”
READ MORE: Blackout 2003: Ontario in the dark
Many of the those working on the floor of the Independent Electricity System Operator at that time have since retired, but spokesperson Alexandra Campbell is still there and remembers it well.
“Certainly the busiest time of my career,” she remembers with a smile.
Campbell was still fairly new to the job when she was thrust into the crisis response the pressure cooker.
Since that day, Campbell cites numerous changes since to help stabilize the system; better training for energy operators, better warning systems.
But the one she cites as the “most significant,” would be seen as a no-brainer by most people.
It’s difficult to fathom that it wouldn’t have been the case to begin with.
“The standards prior to 2003 were not mandatory in most places,” she said.
“They in fact were mandatory in Ontario, now they’re mandatory across North America. Which means if people aren’t following the rules, there are penalties in place.”
Whether it’s human or mechanical error, no system is without flaw.
Another widescale outage is always a possibility for any number of reasons, but when it comes to what happened in 2003 Campbell is confident things are better today than they were then.
“If the same thing were to happen today that started the 2003 blackout, it would not lead to a big outage.”