updated 4/5/2004 5:36:25 PM ET 2004-04-05T21:36:25

The power industry’s disregard of its rules intended to ensure the reliable flow of electricity contributed significantly to last summer’s blackout in eight states and Canada, investigators said Monday in their final report.

Another major outage could happen unless reliability regulations, with clear penalties for violators, are put in place, according to the report by a joint U.S.-Canadian task force.

It also recommended more independence for the private industry-sponsored group that writes voluntary requirements for power grids.

“The report makes clear that this blackout could have been prevented and that immediate actions must be taken in both the United States and Canada to ensure that our electric system is more reliable,” Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said.

The blackout came on Aug. 14, darkening all or parts of eight states from Michigan to New York and affecting areas of Canada. An interim report in November from the task force outlined many problems, but Congress has failed to address them.

The Bush administration and many lawmakers agree on the need to end the industry’s regulation of itself. Attempts to have the government impose reliability standards have gotten tangled up in broader disagreements on Capitol Hill over energy legislation.

The report Monday said none of the information received during the past four months “have changed the validity” of its interim findings in November. Those conclusions were that the blackout should have been prevented; that it originated with power line problems in Ohio; and that the outages rapidly cascaded because of communications problems, faulty equipment and inadequate training.

The final report, as did the earlier one, leveled much of the blame on Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp., which it said failed to adequate recognize or respond to problems on three of its Ohio lines. Investigators also found inadequate monitoring of events by the regional grid system operator.

FirstEnergy has contended that the grid problems were more widespread.

But the final report also said investigators found “additional violations of reliability requirements and institutional and performance deficiencies beyond those identified” in November.

“First and foremost, compliance with reliability rules must be made mandatory with substantial penalties for noncompliance,” said Abraham and Canadian Natural Resource Minister John Efford, who led the task force.

The power industry has an array of voluntary requirements aimed at preventing blackouts. They are administered by the private North American Reliability Council, which lacks the ability to hand down penalties.

Many reliability rules were ignored and the council could not do much about it, investigators have found.

The task force recommended finding new ways to fund the council and its regional affiliates “to ensure their independence from the parties that they oversee.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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