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Anonymous System Operator
Orange and Rockland Utilities
5 November 1997

Interviewed by James T. Sparrow

 
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Q-I guess the best way to start would be for you to give a quick overview of your work history in the company and what you, when you started, where you were working.

A-OK, I started in 1958 and I started as a ground man in [inaudible] New York. I worked about 7 years. Then I was a district service man for about 14years.

Q-Starting when?

A-That I'm not sure of.

Q-Roughly.

A-Roughly, 69 or so, or, yeah, no, that could have been. Then I was district service man until 79. Then I went in as a distribution supervisor for one year; then system operations in 1980; and I went in as system operator and I worked my way up to senior power dispatcher.

Q-When was that?

A-1980, and that was my. . . like I say 2 years I don't remember exactly, 4 or5 years as a power dispatcher; then I retired. That was 37 years, and I retired in 1995.

Q-Now, that's a pretty long ladder. Could someone do that today?

A-I don't know whether they could or not--probably.

Q-Now, when you were working in the early 60s, were there power outages?

A-Oh, yes. A massive power outage I believe in 66, 65 or 66. Took everything out in the Northeast.

Q-Right, I mean before that one.

A-Oh no, there were power outages probably from different storms. You know the hurricanes and so forth. I can remember working around the clock for days as a linemen trying to restore, you know, trees had taken down lines, different ice storms, snow.

Q-When the 65 blackout hit, how was that different? I mean obviously duration and scope, but . . .

A-What seemed funny was that there was no particular weather pattern that was possible for it. It seemed like fairly nice weather and all of the sudden it was a massive power outage. The way we became aware of it is our local doctor who was also our neighbor called and asked us if our lights were out, and we said "yes." He said well, he didn't know how large the outage was but he suggested if we had a battery powered radio toturn it on and see what we can find out. We did that--when we realized that this was a massive power outage. Luckily O and R was able to keep some generators online when this happened, and I think within three hours we were back.

Q-So did you go right in to work?

A-No, I was a linesmen at that time and really there weren't any reason for a linesmen to go in because there were no lines down or any such

thing. It was strictly a technical problem, relays or whatever, and they started to restore power by remote control, from the system operators they have the controls to put it back on line, and connect to other companies right from the control room.

Q-So, as a linemen did you know notice any change in the way the company operated after the blackouts?

A-Well, they were a little more--even for storms--they were a little better prepared because they had plans for restoration after that. In other words they kept supplies stocked for those reasons that the power outages occurred especially [inaudible]. They were better prepared to restore in the shorter time.

Q-Right, and then when the second blackout hit in 77, did that have any impact on O and R--the way that it operated?

A-In a sense it did. As a result of that they started the New York Power Pool. Which [inaudible] every company in the state is part of that. They were situated in Albany and they sort of over saw the entire electric business in the entire state, as far as the amount of incoming electricity on certain lines, they monitored, and also once they set that up the sysop started going to all these, they had to go twice a year for a week at a time. Then they had these seminars, schools what have you. We had a chance to talk to one another. Sort of teach how to better react to outages and how they affected the companies together.

Q-Right, now the power pools, as I understand, started after the 65blackout, but you probably--did you notice the presence of the power pool, or in effect caused by O and R's involvement in the power pool after say68 or 69?

A-I tell ya, from my point of view I was still in the line department. I wasn't aware of anything that the Power Pool contributed to us. But I'm sure the sys op that were in there at the time it impacted them greatly.

Q-Right, how would you say your job, you said you were a district serviceman--that's a lineman right?

A-Yes.

Q-How would you say that changed, if at all over the period from say 59to 79?

A-Well, actually with in the company itself they had a better system of interconnected lines. Whereas they did have an outage in a certain area. If a massive storm or whatever knocked the lines down they were able to open the lines in one area and close it in another and restore a good part of it just by rerouting the source of the power.

Q-Do you recall when they started doing this?

A-I would say after that power outage--shortly after that they started upgrading their lines. And also made better interconnected ties with other companies. They could help one another in situations like that.

Q-Now when the 77 blackout happened the cause of that was thunderstorm?

A-Yes.

Q-Did that--it looks like you had a year or two before you left being a linemen. Did you see changes from your position as a lineman as a result of this, seeing the whole . . .

A-Again you were more aware, as time went on it seemed like people were more reliant on electricity. It became such a big thing that they had to restore it as soon as possible, so many things relied on it electricity heavily. But when they started that wasn't the case. A lot of times people were with out it for weeks at a time, but as time went on it had to be restored a lot sooner.

Q-Yeah, could you go in to that a little more? How did you, what were the indicators? What made you or the company feel pressure to get the electricity back further, I'm sorry, more rapidly?

A-I think the hospitals, the police, the radio network, the hospitals operating rooms, and the technical equipment that they had. Even individual houses--people had medical machinery to help that at home, breathing, or medication, or whatever. All these things credited to rapid restoration.

Q-Were there any concerns that if the lines weren't up or if there was some perceived negligence on the part of O and R that there would be some sort of lawsuit or public outcry or expose or something?

A-Yes, after the 77 blackout New York City I guess Con Ed was confronted with many lawsuits. Loss of food and all those types of things, and also people claimed injuries. And O and R to a certain extent but not as widely as Con Ed was.

Q-Wasn't the O and R territory more rural when you started and then became suburban later?

A-Oh yes. In fact, a good portion of it still is rural. Therefore the restoration of it was a lot harder to accomplish because of that rural area that has many more trees. Of course, the maintenance on these lines required the company to trim the trees back around the lines. People resented that because it made the trees look ugly--some of them. And as a result they wanted to maintain the rural atmosphere when you did have these ice storms and winter storms that freeze, the tree's branches took a lot of lines down. It was nice to have the trees, but during a storm they wrecked havoc.

Q-Now, when you--before we go on to when you became a sys op--I just want to see if you can remember any sort of telling episodes or incidents or stories that sort of revealed this increasing pressure on the company not to lose power, and also if there anything in your work experience that revealed this as well? It may be being pushed to do more overtime work increasingly as time went on--that sort of thing.

A-The only thing I remember that was quite a big difference as time went on was in sys op. When I first started there the sys op was a very important person and everybody in the company actually had to listen towhat there decision was on restoration and also at times they had to cut back on power to avoid ground outs--had to take people out for short periods of time. What I'm leading up to is the Sys op had that authority to do these things with out consulting anyone, other than possibly the New York Power Pool, which coordinated things over the bigger spectrum. As time went on the sys op authority actually eroded, so that by the time I retired we really didn't have much authority anymore to do these things. You always had to consult with the superior and make sure they agreed and so forth.

Q-OK. Actually, this is where we are heading anyway. When you started, I imagine there was some training involved in becoming a system op?

A-Oh yes. Definitely. In fact when you first started as sys op you are not allowed to go on shift and work the [load?], or even as a sys op you always were an observer for 6 months to a year before they would let you take. In that course of time they're schooling. To become a sys op, you had to really cover many different phases of the operation, whether it's transmission, generation, and buying and selling. Things of that nature.

Q-Right. So when you were trained, were trained at O and R? And also were you ever trained at the power pool?

A-Yes. Like in 64 we had in-house training what they called. Other than when you first become a system operator at conference training, or six months to a year. Whichever--you know some people take longer and others, depending on their background before they came in there, how long it took to train them.

Q-So at the power pool?

A-At the power pool we had more training, of a different nature. It was more communications. How to communicate with one company to another.

Q-And what was the significance of this? I guess what I'm getting at was, were there any scenarios in the simulator or in your training that drew on the experience of either blackout?

A-Yes, they used some of the things that happened. I think a good portion of it was communications. That they didn't establish a good network of communications so they could foresee what was coming down the [pike], and sort of avoid a larger outage. But I think what they really stressed at these power pool schools was communication. Have everybody on the same page as far as what they called certain things. We noticed in each company the same operations were called something different, so they started making standards.

Q-Right, do you recall any specific scenarios, or anything, any specific sort of communications problems or power-sharing arrangements they stressed more than others?

A-Not really, it was just an over all communications thing, that I recall, but I'm sure there must have been certain [inaudible] where they used certain [inaudible] and so forth to actually see how communications were within the system operations as a whole and also within in each company.

Q-Right, when they were using examples drawn from the blackouts, would

they program these in to the simulator, or would they, say--they would just sort of give you an outline of what had happened then?

A-Well, the simulator was something that they actually had up and working as I was retiring see. They had it for some time, and it was only geared towards the New York Power Pool itself, but never companies that didn't have the programs up for it. But I understand that they all do now.So, you know, each company goes up there they can work on it there.

Q-When you were trained at O and R did you use a simulator?

A-No, we had none. We used different scenarios. History of what different outages occurred and how they were restored and how you could improve on them. You know that was just basic training.

Q-Right. How would you say if you could sort of give an overview, how would you say the stands or the preparation for relying on buying power from outside sources changed over time?

A-Oh yes, when I first went in the philosophy of the state was that each company had to have enough generation online to cover their own load, and that was, you really had to. If you lost your machine and you couldn't meet your own load you were sort of penalized to a certain extent. And then you also had to buy, and the New York Power Pool actually bought it for you and sent it to your system through the interconnections. But as time went on, the theory changed considerably where they could buy cheaper than what there own generation was able to produce. They started shuttin’ down generators, at least the more expensive ones. Kept buying to the point where today they buy most of there electricity from outside sources where it is cheaper, from out west and so forth.

Q-And what was your impression of why that change occurred?

A-Well, I think money--it was economics. For companies to remain competitive, they have to buy the cheaper power. Otherwise, if they were independent and used their own generation was a lot more costly, the rates had to keep going up and people were actually rebelling.

Q-Right, and would you say that, what was your impression of how the cost pressure became more important.? Other words, I mean obviously cost is always important, but apparently the company found a way to shift from using its own generation. Why do you think it became more cost effective to take in outside energy?

A-Well, it depended on the capacity on the lines, how much you could import, and of course through the years they improved that considerably. They put up bigger lines with bigger capacity. But, the out west generation, where it is mostly coal cars and of course nuclear—but nuclear didn't turn out to be as inexpensive as they thought it would be. Coal cart and hydro electric generation was also cheap, and that's where they went.

Q-As the company became more dependent on outside sources did your job become more difficult?

A-Oh yes. We to buy ahead of time and schedule the electricity in so

you can meet you load. On the high load periods it became very expensive. Even cheaper stuff from out west, everybody wanted it, they only had so much, lines could only carry so much. At high load periods, you had to put all your generation on to meet the loads, and that drove up the cost too.

Q-Would you say that the grid became more unstable or just the sys op got more squeezed and the grid stayed the same?

A-The grid more or less stayed the same, but there were problems built in to. Therefore they had these plans where they had to go to ground outs, where they couldn't meet the load in certain the load pockets and certain areas. Usually the heat is what caused the high loads. They had problems meeting the loads. They loaded the incoming transmission lines as much as they could without burning down. Then they actually had to go to selective power outages where they actually take people off.

Q-Was this when you began or more towards the end?

A-More towards the end. I think it is going to become more and more the case where it's harder to build lines because you can't give rightal ways anymore. People are just not letting the companies go through like they did at one time. It is becoming quite a difficult situation.

Q-OK, so I guess just rapping up. Do you have any impression of either blackout and its impact on the way the company worked?

A-Yeah, my impression was that it was a jolt for most people to realize they were helpless. The companies themselves, when the power went out, it depended on how well they were able to get their own generation back, and then at a very slow pace start putting things back to normal. It was quite complicated, and things didn't always work out the way they planned. So they can [try] rehearsing on how to do this, and no matter how well you rehearse there is always something that doesn't go according to plan.

Q-Did you feel that over this period the sys op who managed the grid actually lost control?

A-Yeah, they sort of, yeah. They used to be able to more or less do it. The thing with sys operations, the quicker you can react in a situation sometimes the better to stave off further problems. If you have to consult with your superiors before you make these big decisions, the time wasted in between, that could actually lead to further problems.

Q-Ok, I think that's it, unless you have anything we haven't covered that you can remember from either blackout.

A-No, I think that's about it for me, Jim.

 
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