IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - May/June 2017 - 84

history

George C. Loehr

the "good" blackout
the Northeast power failure of 9 November 1965

O

On the night Of 9 nOvember
1965, the northeastern United States and
the province of Ontario suffered an electric power failure unprecedented in the
history of the industry up until that time.
An estimated 30 million Americans and
Canadians were directly affected in an
area encompassing about 80,000 mi2, as
shown in figure 1. full restoration of the
power took up to 13 h. the event immediately became front-page news around
the world, and photographs and films of
a blacked-out new York City formed the
root of endless editorials, speculations,
and conspiracy theories.
the blackout triggered an investigation by the U.S. federal Power Commission (fPC) (see "the U.S. federal
Power Commission"). Similar to many
regulation agencies today, the fPC was
comprised primarily of people with a
nontechnical background who needed
fundamental explanations of the history
and phenomena affecting the electric
power system. immediately following
the 1965 northeast blackout, the fPC
invited several major utilities to provide
power system experts to educate its nontechnical members and staff on dynamic
power system phenomena, specifically,
transient stability, and instability.
this column summarizes some basic
explanations of electric power engineering, several of which can be used today
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MPE.2017.2659379
Date of publication: 19 April 2017

84

ieee power & energy magazine

with audiences not familiar with the subject. the column also describes the fPC
investigation and identifies the root causes
of the 1965 northeast blackout.

The Electric Power System
and Key Phenomena
Causing the 1965 Blackout
One of the oddities of an interconnected ac power system is that anything

that happens anywhere on the grid
is felt everywhere else. So if a short
circuit or fault occurs on a transmission
line in maine, it will be felt in mississippi. if a generator trips in missouri, it
will affect systems in minnesota. You
can build a large electric power transmission grid with ac, but this unique
characteristic is both its greatest blessing and its saddest curse.

figure 1. A map of the area affected by the 9 November 1965 blackout.
(Source: FPC report.)
1540-7977/17©2017IEEE

may/june 2017



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