CLEVELAND - Investigators are starting to narrow down their search for the source of the blackout that left parts of the Midwest and the Northeast in the dark Thursday.
The power company is under scrutiny, but the company claims the problems may be elsewhere. FirstEnergy officials said the problem goes far beyond its power lines.
A FirstEnergy representative said that there were numerous unusual power swings in the Midwest hours before the blackout. In fact, in a statement released by FirstEnergy Monday, it said that company data showed strange fluctuations of voltage in the Midwest power grid as early as noon on Thursday, more than three hours before the FirstEnergy lines failed. (Read Statement)
FirstEnergy added that it is collecting and analyzing data regarding its system. The company state it would expect the same from other transmission operators across the area.
The head of the North American Electric Reliability Council, an industry group investigating the power outage, said the cause of the outage has yet to be learned.
"There were fail-safe steps in place and they didn't work. We don't know whether it's a faulty design or whether it's not following the rules," said Michael Gent.
Investigators are also looking into problems at the power plant in Eastlake.
At 3:06 p.m. Thursday, one power line failed shifting more power to other lines, causing them to fail. At roughly the same time, part of the Eastlake plant went off line, NewsChannel5 reported.
That apparently affected the loop of power lines around Lake Erie. It suffered huge power swings,
NewsChannel5 reported. Current flowing west through Ohio suddenly flowed east. At 4:11 p.m. automatic shutoffs began in Michigan, Canada and New York.
Another event two hours before the blackout may also be a clue. The Eastlake power plant began to spew fly ash.
"This is very strange. It doesn't happen often. I've been the fire chief for 28 years and I've only seen this happen once before," said Capt. Glen Folley.
Power in northern Ohio comes from FirstEnergy Corp. The company released a statement saying that while its overall system appeared stable on Thursday, one alarm screen was not working.
On ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Gent said it's not clear yet what that means.
"We have to dig into this to see why the alarm wasn't noticed by somebody else, because the alarm goes to several places," said Gent.
Local power failures are normal everywhere, and investigators caution that whatever happened in northeast Ohio won't explain the failure of seven other states and Canada to protect themselves, NewsChannel5 reported. But it may explain what kicked off the blackout.
Gov. Bob Taft was scheduled to be briefed by Alan Schriber, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, and FirstEnergy officials Monday about the outage