Mid-Missouri blackout seen as highly unlikely

Friday, August 15, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:29 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

Whether by man or nature, overloads in the power grid can cause a large-scale outage like the one in the northeast on Thursday. Authorities are still unsure of the cause of the overload.

One theory is that lightning may have struck a power plant. Another holds that overuse may have gradually taxed the system. Like rush-hour traffic on a highway, power lines can be slowly jammed when electricity usage is at a premium.

While Columbia was not affected by the outage, increased electricity demand in the summer makes power sources vulnerable, even over a large geographic area. Mid-Missouri, like the cities in Thursday’s outage, lies in two power grids. The continental United States has 10 power grids.

Boone Electric Cooperative is a customer of Associated Electric Cooperative in Springfield, Mo. Columbia Water and Light uses power from three sources, including plants in Columbia and Sikeston.

If any one of those power suppliers was overloaded, parts of Columbia and mid-Missouri would experience a massive loss of power. For the entire area to be blacked out, both grids would have to be overloaded at once. Mariesa Crow, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla, said that situation is highly unlikely.

The most immediate remedy for power overloads is building more transmission lines. Crow said the United States has plenty of power, just not enough lines. However, the cost of building new lines would be dealt to customers in their utility bills.

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