February 27, 2008 in Nation/World

Florida blackout blamed on ‘cascading effect’

Jessica Gresko Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

University of Miami Police Officer Eddie Somarriba directs traffic in Coral Gables, Fla., Tuesday, after power outages affected up to 3 million people across the southern end of the state. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

MIAMI – Millions of Floridians sweated. Restaurant owners tossed out their food. Motorists battled each other even more than usual. And all for something that should have been just a blip on the electrical grid.

An equipment malfunction in a substation near Miami on Tuesday started a domino effect that power officials had stopped but were still struggling to understand by late afternoon.

The relatively minor problem somehow caused two power distribution lines to be disabled between Miami and Daytona Beach. In response, Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point nuclear plant south of Miami stopped operating around 1 p.m., Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Kenneth Clark said.

The result was aggravation and confusion across south and central Florida.

Up to 3 million people – about a fifth of Florida’s population – lost power at various points during the afternoon, though there were no safety concerns at the nuclear plant. And while many areas were hit hard, the outages were short lived and only about 20,000 people lacked electricity during the evening commute home. Most of the evening outages were due to bad weather, not the grid problem, officials said.

Florida Power & Light was trying to determine what caused the equipment failure and a fire at the substation, but the company said it was not the kind of problem that should have created the widespread blackouts.

Grid problems caused both Turkey Point reactors to shut down, said the utility’s nuclear spokesman, Dick Winn.

“All the safety systems worked just like they were supposed to and both of those units are in stable condition right now,” he said. Clark, of the NRC, agreed the plant’s safety was not in question.

The outages had no connection to terrorism, Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said the outages were technical, not criminal.

“It’s a matter of just a cascading effect,” he said.

Florida emergency management officials said the outages cut power to 2 million to 3 million people during the heat of a day that saw temperatures reach the 80s.

The federal nuclear commission said based on reports from its resident inspectors at the plant, the initial drop in voltage came from outside Turkey Point, but the problem worsened when the two reactors shut down, the panel said.

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