Massive Power Failure Plunges Italy into Darkness

September 29, 2003

The entire Italian Peninsula from Venice to Sicily was plunged into darkness early Saturday morning by a massive power failure that knocked out the national electrical grid, stranding travelers, creating chaos in the streets and largely bringing the country to a halt.

According to Italian authorities, damage to an ultra high intensity power line in Switzerland or France, possibly caused by a lightening strike, set up a chain reaction which triggered the closure of practically every power generator and transmission line in Italy.

While the effects were felt everywhere, they hit Rome particularly hard. The capital city was holding a “White Nights” celebration, meaning that much of the population was still up at three in the morning when the blackout occurred. The city’s already packed thoroughfares were plunged further into chaos by the failure of traffic signals and streetlights. To make matters worse, shortly before the blackout a sudden downpour had begun.

Remarkably there are so far no reports of any deaths and only minor injuries, but this could change as power returns and authorities are able to launch an investigation of the underlying causes and effects of the blackout.

Italy is more vulnerable to a power grid failure than many other European countries, as its own power generating capacity is limited. It relies heavily on power from other European countries, mainly France, Switzerland and Austria. All of which have denied any responsibility for the power failure, indicating that the interdependence of the country’s power grid was the most likely cause.

The power failure is the third major outage to his the industrialized world in the last two months, beginning with the breakdown of the U.S. and Canadian grids in August. A power failure earlier this month in Sweden and Denmark caused similar chaos.

The situation cries out for a solution, but that may not be easy to find. A technical expert told the BBC that, while the deregulation of Europe’s power industry had indeed lowered prices, it has also resulted in the creation of a negative investment climate. This means that the needed additional electrical generating plants and power lines aren’t being built. That’s a situation which many Americans, particularly in California, certainly share with disgruntled Romans.

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