Make us your home page
Instagram

Florida Power & Light still in dark over blackout

Floridians have power, but not answers to how a small equipment malfunction in South Florida triggered a massive blackout that left millions of people as far away as the Tampa Bay area in the dark Tuesday afternoon.

Florida Power & Light, Florida's largest provider of electricity and the source of the malfunction, said it might not have answers for weeks.

"We're still in the middle of a major investigation to figure out why what happened happened," said Sarah Marmion, spokeswoman for the Juno Beach utility.

Florida's outage spurred new concerns about the vulnerability of the electric grid. The state's utilities sought to reassure customers that all was well. But experts from around the country pointed out the system's fragility due to aging equipment, breakneck growth and ever-evolving cyber threats.

"The grid has vulnerabilities that are both blessings and curses," said Eric Byres, chief technology officer for Byres Security, a Canadian firm that focuses on cyber-security for critical infrastructure. "The grid is the most complicated machine that man has ever made."

The power network has two basic problems, he said. It's highly interconnected, so power can move throughout the system and customers aren't solely dependent on one power plant. But that also means that an isolated problem can quickly amplify.

"The other problem with the grid is that it's old. It uses technology built largely 25 to 30 years ago," Byres said.

Power outages cost the nation about $80-billion a year, said Joe Eto, a scientist for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. estimated that the nation's electric system is rapidly nearing its capacity. The organization is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to ensure electric security and reliability. It oversees a system with more than 211,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and $1-trillion in assets that provides power to more than 334-million people.

"We are operating the grid closer to the edge than ever before — and we're frankly at the point where we need to consider how to make do without the resources we need," said Richard Sergel, president and CEO of the North American Electricity Reliability Corp.

Linda Campbell, vice president of the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council in Tampa, said Florida has particular vulnerabilities of its own. It relies on natural gas for about 30 percent of its power. That dependence is expected to increase to about 50 percent by 2017. In addition, Florida has limited transmission connections to other states.

In response to those vulnerabilities, the state has maintained a substantial reserve capacity to meet growing demand. It is also working to reduce its dependence on natural gas, Campbell said.

Emerging cyber threats have placed an additional burden on the industry, Byres said. Until January, the industry didn't have mandatory computer security standards. An interconnected system is only as strong as its weakest link.

"It's an arms race, as to whether we can get our systems adequately secured," he said.

Byres offered some sobering examples. In 2002, hackers in Venezuela were able to shut down part of that country's oil and gas industry. Hackers have already caused multi-city blackouts outside the United States, and there are indications that attempts have been made to breach vital power systems within the country.

Hackers aren't necessarily terrorists, he said. "In actual fact, I am much more scared of criminals any day of the week. Where there's money to be made, there's resources."

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or

(813) 225-3117.

.FAST FACTS

A look back at what went wrong

What happened? Tuesday's blackout started with a small malfunction. At 1:08 p.m., a switch malfunctioned in a substation in western Miami-Dade County, triggering a small fire that quickly burned out.

Why did the outage spread? The problem should have remained isolated. But power levels began to fluctuate dangerously, putting power plants at risk for catastrophic damage. Within one minute, at least five power plants shut down.

Who was affected? At Turkey Point, 25 miles south of Miami, Florida Power & Light lost the use of its two nuclear reactors and a natural gas plant. Tampa Electric lost a small natural gas generator in Polk County and another at its Bayside power station. Throughout the state, lights went dark.

How many customers were hit? At times Tuesday, the state's emergency operations center estimated that more than 4-million people lost power in more than 30 counties. On Wednesday, the Florida Electric Reliability Coordinating Council said that about 800,000 customers were without power, leaving more than 1.6-million people in the dark. Power had been restored to all of them by 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Florida Power & Light still in dark over blackout

02/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, February 28, 2008 12:38am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: Tampa Bay household income tops $50,000 but still makes us look poor

    Personal Finance

    The good news is Tampa Bay's median household income finally crawled above $50,000 last year. The bad news is that figure — officially $51,115 by new U.S. Census Bureau data — still puts the Tampa Bay region as the poorest of the nation's 25 largest metro areas.

    Tampa Bay still has the lowest median household income among the 25 most populous metro areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
[Times]
  2. Make-A-Wish Foundation aims to help more kids in Tampa Bay

    Health

    The Make-A-Wish Foundation is on the lookout for sick children in the Tampa Bay area who need a once-in-a-lifetime pick-me-up.

    Grace Savage, a 10-year-old girl with a chromosomal disorder made a trek to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium last year, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The foundation intends to beef up its presence in the Tampa Bay area after a reorganization. The region is now the responsibility of the foundation's Southern Florida chapter, one of the most active in the country, with more than 11,000 wishes granted so far. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times ]
  3. Florida hides details in nursing home reports. Federal agencies don't.

    Medicine

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott widened his offensive Thursday against the Broward nursing home he blames for the deaths of 10 residents by setting up a tip line for information, but when it comes to access to the inspection reports of all nursing homes, the governor's administration has heavily censored what the …

    In the foreground is a document detailing the findings of a Feb. 2016 inspection at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills obtained from a federal agency, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Behind it is the state?€™s version of the same document, from the Agency for Health Care Administration, showing how it has been redacted before being released to the public. [Miami Herald]
  4. 'Toxic' times: How repeal of Florida's tax on services reverberates, 30 years later

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Long before Hurricane Irma attacked Florida, the state faced a troubled fiscal future that the storm will only make worse.

    Robertson says the tax debate is now “toxic.”
  5. Fewer Tampa Bay homeowners are underwater on their mortgages

    Real Estate

    The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners underwater on their mortgages continues to drop. In the second quarter of this year, 10.2 percent of borrowers had negative equity compared to nearly 15 percent in the same period a year ago, CoreLogic reported Thursday. Nationally, 5.4 percent of all mortgaged homes were …

    The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners underwater on their mortgages  continues to drop. [Times file photo]