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444 violations of power rules cited

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WASHINGTON — Electric companies violated transmission grid rules hundreds of times last year in ways that could have led to a power failure, the president of the rule-making association testified Wednesday in the first hearing on the Aug. 14 blackout.

The president, Michehl R. Gent of the North American Electric Reliability Council, said it was still too early to say whether the blackout was caused by someone breaking the rules or a deficiency in the rules themselves.

But in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Gent said that his organization had counted 444 violations of operating standards in 2002, about half of which could cause a blackout.

Also on Wednesday, the Energy and Commerce committee released 650 pages of conversations between a system controller at FirstEnergy's control room, near Akron, Ohio, and a technician at the Midwest Independent System Operator, or Miso, in Carmel, Ind., discussing some early indications of a problem. The transcript, prepared by Miso's lawyers, leaves the impression that FirstEnergy was having severe difficulty monitoring its own system.

At one point, a FirstEnergy controller told a counterpart at Miso: "We have no clue. Our computer is giving us fits too."

At the hearing, the question on the rules and what caused the blackout was raised by the committee's ranking Democrat, John D. Dingell of Michigan, who maintained that Congress should promptly pass a bill reflecting its consensus that the transmission rules should have the force of law.

But Republicans are pressing to keep it as part of a broader energy bill that deals with drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, steps to increase the supply of natural gas and other issues.