European Blackout: German Power Firm to Risk Another Switch-off

Brace yourself, western Europe. German power company E.on, which plunged more than 10 million people into darkness on Saturday, is about to turn the line off again. It will be the second try at moving a new cruise ship to the North Sea.

The "Norwegian Pearl" is to make another attempt to reach the sea.
DDP

The "Norwegian Pearl" is to make another attempt to reach the sea.

E.on, one of Europe's biggest power companies, is again going to turn off a power line in northern Germany on Monday night after the first switch-off -- to allow the safe passage of a ship on Saturday -- caused a power blackout across Europe.

E.on had turned off the 380,000 volt line over the river Ems on Saturday night as a safety precaution to let newly built cruise ship "Norwegian Pearl" pass underneath on its way to the North Sea from the Meyer shipyard in Papenburg where it was built.

The switch-off, though routine, led to an energy shortfall in the German power grid which caused a chain reaction of outages across western Europe. E.on responded by switching the power line back on which forced the "Norwegian Pearl" to abandon its trip and return to dock.

A spokesman for the shipyard said it was much too risky for ships higher than 60 meters (195 feet) to pass underneath an operating power line. "A spark could fly or the lines could be sagging," he said. There must always be a safety gap of five meters between the ship and the line.

A second attempt will be made to move the ship on Monday evening at around 7 p.m. local time and E.on will be switching off the power line again then.

A member of E.on's management board, Klaus-Dieter Maubach, said Saturday's power line switch-off had been the root cause of the blackout. "That was basically the origin of the supply outage -- that we had to take a line out of operation and that this led to pressures on other lines which later overstretched the network," Maubach told German television.

The company is investigating the blackout and doesn't believe the power line was the only causer. It has frequently been switched off to let tall ships pass.

Maubach rejected criticism from the German government that power companies weren't investing enough of their profits in their electricity networks. "The networks are in good condition, they are constantly maintained, we're investing in these networks," he said. He added that E.on planned to invest around €2.8 billion in improving the German power grid in coming years.

Saturday's blackout swept through large parts of western Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands and Croatia. About 100 trains in Germany and several trains in Belgium were brought to a standstill.

In France, 5 million people were affected in the country’s biggest blackout in 30 years. Regions in the north of the country were affected, as were districts of Paris and Lyon. Firefighters in Paris responded to nearly 40 calls from people stuck in lifts.

cro/Reuters/dpa

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