The Web     
Powered by
Return to Transcripts main page


Jim Lewis Discusses Cities Control Of Energy

Aired August 14, 2003 - 20:07   ET


JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, keep up your good work on the streets of New York. The coming darkness of course increases the challenge for everyone involved, including police and security officials and those still trying to make their way home.
Wolf Blitzer will continue his reporting on the streets of New York. We are about 23 minutes away from a statement from the president of the United States. He is in California on a fundraising trip, some other business as well. He will speak to reporters at the bottom of the hour 8:30 here in Washington, 5:30 where he is on the West Coast about this cascading blackout today.

Still unclear to us at CNN whether we will have the technical capabilities to bring you that statement live, we of course will if we can. If not we will bring you the tape of that statement as soon as possible.

As officials try to find out what happened, how did this happen, we are being told by the Canadian government that they believe a lightning strike on a plant near Niagara Falls on the New York side of the U.S.-Canadian border is what started all of this.

I want to bring into our discussions now here in Washington Jim Lewis. He works on technology and public policy issues for the Center of Strategic and International Studies here in Washington. Sir, you are an expert on infrastructure. Does that sound feasible to you a lightning strike at one plant knocks out 9,300 square miles?

JIM LEWIS, CSIS: Yes, sure. Yes, this happens all the time so it shouldn't be a surprise. This is a particularly big one but, again, you see something like this at least once a decade and on a smaller scale it's a frequent occurrence.

KING: The former energy secretary, now the governor New Mexico was on with us earlier in the day, several hours ago as this all unfolded. He said that he blames this on a third world grid system, electrical system in a first world country. Is that a fair criticism in your view?

LEWIS: Well, it's a little unfair but there is some truth to it. We haven't invested as much in the electrical system because of uncertainty because of the shift of the market forces and privatization so we haven't kept up given the great demand you see in places like New York City.

KING: And, Jim Lewis, what issues come to mind as you watched this event today, a remarkable and dramatic day many feared terrorism at first. Nuclear power plants had to be shut down.

There were questions of security terrorism. I should note it has been all but ruled out. Officials say they believe and they say there's absolutely no evidence of terrorism. They now are saying this lightning strike. What issues came into your mind as you watched this throughout the day?

LEWIS: First I thought that New York City and the state of New York and the people of New York did a really good job in responding so no panic, so far no looting, great job on the part of New York and that's very encouraging because it suggests that we're better prepared for things like this than we were a couple years ago.

The second thing it made me think was we could use a little bit more redundancy. When TSA announced that they weren't able to screen bags at airports and that was holding up flights, even though other airport services had been restored it made me think perhaps TSA should invest in some generators.

The third thing that made me think is that for reasons of the economy we privatized the electric system and that make electricity cheaper but, at the same time, things like this suggest we might want some redundancy and that goes against cheapness. That suggests you might need some government help.

KING: When you say redundancy, I assume you mean some systems in place to keep the domino effect that we saw today, one plant getting knocked out being able to wipe out service to ten million people on the Canadian side of the border, more than ten million on the U.S. side of the border, is that what you mean? Is there some way, cost effectively anyway, to create a system in which if one plant goes out it does not take the grid with it?

LEWIS: I'm sure that we'll see the electric companies put a lot of work into trying to prevent something like this from happening in the future. I think if we'd asked them yesterday they would have told us they were in a position where they could avoid these regional blackouts.

What you need now is to look for things that are critical services, like the train lines, like the airports, make sure they have generators and think about ways that you can have a system, an electrical grid where one part of the grid going down doesn't bring down as big an area as we saw today.

KING: Help us understand the technology at play here. We are seeing these live pictures. It's beginning to get dark in New York City, officials telling us scattered power beginning to come back.

How much control does a city or a state have as they are getting the capability to bring power back online to target it to where it is needed most to hospitals to nursing homes to facilities where people might have health issues or concerns and they need it? Does that power essentially exist to make those choices or do you just have to bring it on as you get it? LEWIS: You just have to bring it on as you get it. It would take too long to go around and target individual facilities. What you'll see happening is a slow cautious bringing of the system back online.

Remember, everything that was on when the power went out will immediately start to draw power again when the electricity comes back on so they'll have this huge surge and that's the thing that they're probably most afraid about. Individual facilities if they needed the power rather than being brought back online they should have probably had a generator beforehand.

KING: Jim Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies helping us understand this in Washington and I hope, sir, you can help us understand it even more in the days ahead and weeks ahead as we get more answers to this.


On CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNN AvantGo CNNtext Ad info Preferences
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.