It's just a matter of time before it happens. We'll see it on the 6 o'clock news. The report will read something like this: The entire eastern seaboard is still without power more than four days after the electricity grid collapsed due to heavy power demands. As electric utilities and transmission line owners struggle to restore power, city and state officials wrestle with medical emergencies and civil unrest. The President has declared a state of emergency and dispatched the National Guard. Utility officials aren't sure when the system will be restored.

Although this catastrophic event may sound a bit farfetched, don't laugh; it could happen. We've already witnessed several severe blackouts in Chicago and San Francisco recently. Why?

First of all, the nation's electricity grid wasn't designed for how it's presently being operated. Today, transmission lines are regularly exposed to excessive loading conditions, and system operators struggle with curtailing load flows during emergency conditions. This stems from the fact that electric utilities have suspended new line construction projects, cut back on maintenance budgets, and reduced workforce levels in response to utility deregulation. In fact, capacity margins on the system are at an all-time low. If things don't change, we could easily see more frequent blackouts. Is there a solution to this problem? It may come in the form of a self-regulating reliability organization (SRRO).

One group that's trying to "keep the lights on" is The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC). NERC is a not-for-profit company that was formed in response to the Northeast blackout in 1965 to promote the reliability of the bulk electric systems serving North America. The only way NERC can continue to provide a valuable service to the industry is to transform itself into a new entity with enforcement powers. And that's exactly where things are heading. NERC is trying to form an SRRO that has the ability to promulgate and enforce mandatory reliability standards, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) providing oversight. Its proposal reached a milestone on June 30 when the Senate passed S. 2071–The Electric Reliability 2000 Act. NERC hopes that with Senate approval, the House and Administration will also see the importance of enacting this reliability legislation and act promptly. The bill is supported by a broad coalition of industry participants and state agencies.

At this point, we can only hope that NERC's efforts pay off. Until then, my advice to you is keep that on-site power system well maintained!