A step-by-step chronology:

by Larry Robinson

A. November 9 1965: I saw the news story on the New England blackout on TV.

B. 1966: I read the report from the Federal Power Commission on the blackout. It specified that relay Q29BD had tripped, but did not find a reason for the tripping, other than "a possible sudden surge that momentarily raised the power above 375 MW."

C. 1969: I bought "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects." It has a portion of the report included, as well as a report from "IEEE Spectrum".

D. 1983: My job as an engineer requires me to build a monitor to determine the minute-by-minute usage of electrical power by Indiana University Bloomington Campus. This power is measured in three components:

  1. watts (W): The product of volts and amperes in phase with each other.
  2. volt-amps reactive (VAR): The product of volts and amperes 90 degrees out of phase.
  3. volt-amperes (VA): The vector sum of watts and volt-amps reactive.

The power supplied by the generators to a load is measured in watts. Reactive power is phase-shifted power, and is measured in volt-amps reactive (VAR). It is the result of AC power being fed to a load that is primarily an inductor or a capacitor. An electric motor is an example of an inductor. Although this reactive power is not taken from the generators, it does cause extra current flow through the power lines, and must be taken into account in determining the load on each wire. The resultant power, measured in volt-amperes, is the square root of the sum of the squares of the real power and the reactive power.

E. May 1996: I read the part on the blackout in "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects" again. I now noticed the following relevant facts:

  1. Relay Q29BD trip setting: 375 MW (megawatts) and 160 MVAR (megavolt-amps reactive).
  2. This means either the 375 MW or the 160 MVAR could trip the relay.
  3. The actual power was: 356 MW and approximately 160 MVAR.
  4. The relay tripped out when the reactive power exceeded 160 MVAR! It was operating at the trip point!
  5. All it took was a small phase shift, not an overload, to trip the relay.

Since the reactive power was right at the trip point, the starting of a single large motor would have been enough to trip the relay. It tripped, then the other relays on the parallel lines tripped as the load pulled more than 375 MW through each of them. Suddenly unloaded, generators sped up until they were out of phase with each other, and then they tripped out on high MVAR values. It is amazing that neither the investigators nor the Federal Power Commission figured this out.

Other findings:

  1. The whole system may have gone down for the reason given in: A SOLUTION FOR THE 2003 NORTHEAST BLACKOUT
  2. The reason it took so long to get everything back up again is: The startup circuits at most of the power plants were designed to be powered from the functioning power grid. Thus, some generating stations could not be brought back on line until the grid itself had power on it. The generating stations with backup power supplies available had to come up first. Then, they had to keep customers off the lines until they could get some more generators going.
  3. The brilliant red UFO seen at the Syracuse NY Clay substation was probably an electric arc from the 248 MV power lines to a tree. This would have been caused by the sudden voltage surge when the Adam Beck lines cut out. Halation in the eye would have made the image seem larger and closer.
  4. Another possible cause of the brilliant red UFO is something too high on a New York Central train, since the lines cross over the tracks at that location.
  5. A power plant in Canada, the Ontario Hydro steam generation plant, was out of service at the time. This caused heavier than normal demands of power from New York.
  6. Another possible cause of unexplained power outages is a tree branch that falls against the power line. The resulting ground fault trips out the line, but not before setting the branch on fire. The branch burns until it drops away from the power line. Then there is no evidence of a continuing fault, and the cause is unknown to those restoring the power.
  7. Instead of UFOs causing power failures, in reality the power failures tend to cause UFOs.

Larry Robinson


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