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Swidler Says FPC Unable To Overhaul Electric Grid

Joseph C. Swidler, chairman of the Federal Power Commission, said yesterday that the FPC has no authority to make major changes in the electric grid whose failure plunged the Northeast into darkness last week.

The commission has "only limited powers at best," Swidler said in a telephone interview with the CRIMSON.

He explained that the FPC cannot order basic additions to the transmission facilities of the system.

"It's up to Congress to increase out authority," Swidler added, "and I think they're going to take a hard look at the question."

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Private power companies also lack the means for making major changes in the grid, according to Harold Atkinson, vice-president and general manager of the Cambridge Electric Light Co. "If there was another failure, we could restore service an hour earlier than we did last Tuesday," Atkinson said yesterday. "But this is about the extent of what we can do by ourselves."

System at Fault

Cambridge relies on circuit breakers elsewhere in the grid to protect it from a major power drain. Atkinson explained. "There could be more regulatory devices but they'd have to be planned for the whole system," he added.

Swidler said that the blackout was probably due to a malfunction of the entire system, not of an individual piece of equipment."

"A temporary instability, perhaps the sudden overloading of a line, might have started it," he said. "After that, the dominoes fell one by one.

As part of his investigation, Swidler sent telegrams Saturday to the power companies, asking what steps they have taken and what modifications they feel should be made to avoid another failure.

"It's obvious that our interconnected systems must be made stronger," Swidler said. "But to revert to isolated, local systems would be a long step backwards."

Earlier investigation traced the blackout to a mechanical failure in an upper New York State power station. Investigators have so far made public no conclusions about the specific cause.

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