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Published: Tuesday, 10/2/2001

U.S. official says regional utilities are more secure


COLUMBUS - The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon should not scuttle efforts to establish regional groups that would control the transmission of electric power around the United States, a federal official said yesterday.

Nora Mead Brownell, a Federal Energy Regulatory commissioner, spoke to about 250 people attending the “Ohio Energy Summit” hosted by Gov. Bob Taft and the Ohio General Assembly.

Ms. Brownell acknowledged that over the last three weeks, some in the power industry have questioned whether regional transmission organizations would be more vulnerable to terrorism than the current system, in which electric utilities control their transmission systems.

“The opposite is true; emergency planning requires few points of communications, with redundancies, contingencies, and well thought out plans,” said Ms. Brownell, a former member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission whom President Bush appointed in April to the federal panel.

The regional transmission groups are considered crucial to fostering competition among electric utilities, but some utilities have resisted giving up control of the power grid.

Christopher Jones, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said the state is grappling with a lot of uncertainty about federal environmental regulations because of the debate in Congress about how they should be changed. He said the nature of reviewing permits is a lengthy process, but the state is taking steps to try to reduce its backlog, given that Ohio may attract businesses based on its availability of electric power and natural gas.

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