Scoop has an Ethical Paywall
License needed for work use Register



Cablegate: Brazil: Blackout -Causes and Implications

DE RUEHBR #1382/01 3351031
R 011031Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: DECL: 011/2/2019

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires, a.i. Lisa Kubiske, Reasons 1.4 (b)
and (d).

REFTELS: A) 2008 BRASILIA 672, B) 2008 BRASILIA 593, C)2008 SAO

1. (S)SUMMARY: On November 10 at 22:13, Brazil experienced a
blackout that plunged 18 of Brazil's 27 states into darkness for
periods ranging from 20 minutes to 6 hours. A government commission
is investigating, with a draft report and recommendations expected
mid-December. GOB has recently begun to focus more attention on
infrastructure security, both within the President's office and at
Mines and Energy (MME), while an intensive process is also underway
to develop recommendations to avoid outage problems in the future.
The newly heightened concerns about Brazil's infrastructure as a
result of this blackout, combined with the need to address
infrastructure challenges in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup and
2016 Olympics, present the United States opportunities for engagement
on infrastructure development as well critical infrastructure
protection and possibly cyber security. Mission encourages USG
agencies, including DOD, DHS, FCC, TDA and others, to explore these
opportunities in the near-term. END SUMMARY
2. (U) On November 10 at 22:13, Brazil experienced a blackout that
plunged 18 of Brazil's 27 states into darkness for periods ranging
from 20 minutes to 6 hours. The blackout represented a loss of
28,000 megawatts - or 45 percent of total Brazilian consumption at
that instant - of electricity and left an estimated 87 million
residents without power. Scrutiny has been intense and speculation
rife over the cause of the incident, in large part due to the recent
announcement of Rio as the host of the 2016 summer Olympics.
3. (C) On November 18, Econoff met with Plinio de Oliveira, the
President of ONS, the governmental agency responsible for the
nation's interlinked electricity grid, along with Wilkens Geraldes
Filho, ONS's Director of Statistical Analysis, and Elione Vierira de
Araujo, a top engineer. They had spent much of the past week
researching the incident and presenting explanations as to what
happened. Geraldes and Olivera joined the conversation late after an
impromptu meeting with the Director General of ONS to discuss the
incident. The team gave Econoff the same presentation they gave
after the incident to Energy Minister Lobao. On November 20, Econoff
met separately with Jose Coimbra, Chief of Staff to Minister of Mines
and Energy Edison Lobao, and Ildo Wilson Grudtner, Deputy Assistant
Secretary for Electrical Energy, who was the Ministry official called
in to work the issue the night of November the 10th and with overall
responsibility for electrical sector planning.
4. (C) Based on those detailed discussions, the following is what
the government now says occurred. The source of the outage was a
substation close to Sao Paulo called Itaburi on the Tijuco Preto
powerline, which supplies Sao Paulo and then Rio with power from the
Itaipu dam (a binational hydroelectric dam on the border with
Paraguay responsible for 12,600MW of energy or 20 percent of Brazil's
energy supply. Brazil's energy matrix is heavily hydro dependent -
80 percent - with the rest a combination of thermo, nuclear, and some
bioelectricity.). At that point in the system there are three
separate power lines that connect Itaipu into Sao Paulo carrying 765
kilovolts of 60HZ AC supply. There is a separate supply line from
Itaipu into Sao Paulo north of the Tijuco Preto power line, which
carries 50 Hz of DC power. The Sao Paulo/Rio region is also linked
by separate lines to the southern part of the country, as well as to
the north and north east, which are also interlinked with one
another. Overall system consumption for the day was 60 GW, well
below total system capacity of 105 GW.
5. (C) At 22:13, there was a short circuit in one of the three
Itaburi lines in what they call the "B" cycle. 13.5 milliseconds
later, cycle "A" experienced a short circuit in the second line. 3.2
milliseconds after that, the substation at Itaber went out, knocking
out the third and final line, completely disrupting the flow of the
southern supply line from Itaipu into Sao Paulo. When this happened,
automated controls took over to preserve the system. The generators
at Itaipu shut down when they detected the disruption in
transmission, thereby also shutting down the northern supply line to
Sao Paulo. The interlinked systems in the northeast and northern
regions of the country, detecting oscillation in the supply coming
from Sao Paulo, shut off the transmission lines to protect those

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

BRASILIA 00001382 002 OF 005

regions. In the southern region of the country, which was also
providing energy supply to Sao Paulo, the sudden changes in frequency
triggered ERAC (an emergency system in each substation monitoring
balance between the supply and the load) isolating the southern
section from the rest of the grid. These changes preserved the rest
of the system and permitted a quick return to service for most of the
country, but left the major population centers without power for up
to six hours.
6. (C) Geraldes described the events of November 10 as unusual, not
in the interruption of the system, but in the confluence of events
that led to the overall catastrophic scale of the blackout. He said
that a similar disruption taking out the same line had occurred in
the past but the system had been operating in such a way that the
flow was redistributed with very little disruption. In the November
10 case, reservoirs were full due to recent abundant rainfalls and
the thermal plants, which are often tapped to augment flow, were not
operating. The interlinked system which allows electricity from any
part of the country to be distributed to any other part was exporting
power from the primary hydroplants in the South to the Sao Paulo/Rio
region. According to Geraldes, in prior instances, the situation was
reversed, with flow exported from Sao Paulo to the south during
periods of less plentiful rainfall and the disruption had very little
effect on the overall supply.
7. (C) Grudtner said international standards generally call for a
system to have capacity allowing unimpeded operation with one
transmission line inoperable. At the time of the incident, the
Brazilian system was operating at a capacity of unimpeded operations
with two lines down, but the incident took out all three lines
feeding into Sao Paulo. Additionally Coimbra pointed out, each of
the lines which were disabled have recovery times of ten seconds, but
the short circuits occurred within milliseconds of one another,
disabling the transmission system with automatic shutdowns before the
lines were able to recover. Geraldes called it the worst possible
configuration of factors that led to a cascade effect.
8. (C) A government commission composed of ONS and the Brazilian
electricity regulator ANEEL is investigating exactly what happened on
November 10. The commission has 30 days from its formation on
November 13 to complete a draft of its findings, including possible
recommendations. The government will then submit the draft report to
an independent group of non-governmental experts and academicians for
review. The government will finalize the report after that review.
In the absence of the final report, neither ONS nor MME offered a
definitive explanation for what caused these outages. However, they
both maintained that the short circuits are consistent with either a
lightning strike (although ONS took pains to show satellite photos
demonstrating that there were not storms in that area at that
particular time) or a combination of low barometric pressure combined
with high winds and high humidity. ONS also showed photos of
transmission towers with visible discoloration, which they say
further supports these two theories and rules out damage from trees,
physical sabotage, or hackers. (Note: there was no way for Econoff
to verify the location of the towers in the photos, the times of the
discoloration, nor the cause. End Note.)
9. (C) Oliveira and Geraldes further ruled out the possibility of
hackers because, following some acknowledged interferences in past
years, GOB has closed the system to only a small group of authorized
operators, separated the transmission control system from other
systems, and installed filters. Coimbra confirmed that the ONS
system is a CLAN network using its own wires carried above the
electricity wires. Oliveira pointed out that even if someone had
managed to gain access to the system, a voice command is required to
disrupt transmission. Coimbra said that while sabotage could have
caused the outages, this type of disruption would have been deadly,
and investigators would have found physical evidence, including the
body of the perpetrator. He also noted that any internal attempts by
system employees to disrupt the system would have been easily
traceable, a fact known to anyone with access to the system.
10. (U) In the days immediately following the event, government
officials were quoted giving explanations ranging from a downed
powerline hit by a tree, storm damage, to the more general and
on-message short circuit. Meteorologists and energy analysts
questioned the government's weather explanations. Brazil's National
Institute of Space Research (INPE), which monitors atmospheric

BRASILIA 00001382 003 OF 005

activity, stated they recorded no lightning strikes on the day of the
blackout in the immediate vicinity of the transmission lines in
question. Adriano Pires, founding director of the Brazilian Center
for Infrastructure and a highly-regarded Rio-based energy expert,
ruled out the government's explanations, instead blaming an outdated
national grid unable to keep pace with demand. In order to avoid
future widespread outages, Pires told Rio Econoff, the Brazilian
government needs to diversify its sources away from Itaipu by
increasing thermoelectric generation and focusing less on just
operating costs. Press reports have also suggested that, in order to
handle the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, the GoB needs to
upgrade its transmission lines and build smaller-scale power plants -
independent of the national grid - closer to high energy consumption
centers, such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
11. (C) In the meeting with Brasilia econoff, ONS officials
uniformly rejected the claims of an outdated grid, noting that the
current grid was brought up to date after the 2001 blackouts, and now
meets and exceeds international performance criteria and serves some
98% of the country. Coimbra laughed at the suggestion that more
construction of thermo plants is the solution, not only because there
are existing thermo plants which are not being utilized due to high
generation costs, but because even had they been in use, the thermo
plants would need 12-13 hours to power up after a power failure.
Itaipu was operating again at full capacity less than 30 minutes
after the disruption.
12. (S) Two days after the incident, according to a credible source,
security officials in Brazil were attributing the outage to "human
error" on the part of a Brazilian national who is a system operator.
Accordingly to the source, that operator was under investigation.
Source is unavailable for further comment on whether evolving
assessments may have affected that hypothesis and the status of that
particular investigation is unknown. There was also private
speculation in at least one conversation among some government
officials, apparently based in part of the coincidental "60 Minutes
program" just days earlier suggesting vulnerabilities in the
Brazilian system, that U.S. private sector interests may have
engineered the blackouts to gain better commercial access to the
13. (C) Geraldes acknowledged that the spotlight of the Olympic
Games brings an increased scrutiny of the system. ONS has a protocol
to guard against electricity disruptions which has been utilized
during special events such as the Pan Am Games in 2007 and will be
used in upcoming events including the 2014 World Cup and the 2016
Olympics. The protocol includes running all thermal plants, many of
these located close to major cities including Rio, during the event
to ensure multiple sources of generation. Regular maintenance is
deferred during the event to minimize the possibility of disruption
and regular transmission patterns are maintained to ensure the
consistency of normal flow. Geraldes acknowledged actual physical
security was a low priority under this protocol and said no special
plans were made even during events. As Geraldes said, "That has been
less of a concern for us than for you." However he agreed that there
could be an increased focus on physical security in advance of the
games, particularly after this incident has called attention to
possible weaknesses in the system.
14. (C) The perspective from MME was somewhat different. Coimbra
noted that "we are not immune from the kinds of threats that you have
seen in recent years." There is a group in President Lula's office
known as the Cabinet for Infrastructure Security (GSI) that is
looking at infrastructure security. Coimbra recalled that they were
the first to contact him after the incident. Grudtner is tasked with
leading the Ministry's own effort on physical security and he said
that the MME working group is in the process of defining which
installations are of greatest concern/most integral to the system,
and therefore in need of physical protection.
15. (C) ONS officials told Econoff that there was also an intensive
process going on at the Energy Planning Agency, EPE, to develop
recommendations for how to avoid outage problems in the future. One
immediate measure Brazil has undertaken to guard against a repeat
occurrence during the investigation period is reducing the amount of
flow in any one direction to take the pressure off the system - but
with the by-product of increased reliance on the more expensive
thermo plants, increasing the price of electricity. Another
longer-term option under consideration would be to build newer,
larger, and therefore stronger transmission equipment; an expensive

BRASILIA 00001382 004 OF 005

option that the ONS contacts intimated would not be worth the price
to avoid a highly unlikely repeat of the November 10 blackout.
16. (SBU) ONS shared the country's five year plan for energy which
plans for significant increases in energy demand, to be largely met
in the near term with new hydro plants and increases in oil-fueled
electric plants. While projections show sufficient electricity to
meet demand, Geraldes cautioned the picture could change if there are
unanticipated delays in completing the Belo Monte hydro plant due to
come on line in April of 2014, just a few months in advance of the
July World Cup.
17. (C) Though MME's Coimbra did not offer any thoughts for what
might be technological recommendations after this event, he did say
that one area of focus for the GOB in a lessons learned-type exercise
would be improving communications with the public during such events,
as well as in advance of anticipated maintenance that could cause
temporary outages. He was interested in learning more about the U.S.
Emergency Broadcast system as one possible way of handling this
challenge. Econoff committed to research the U.S. program and send
information to see whether cooperation on this front was feasible.
18. (C) Both MME and ONS were eager to put the November 10 blackout
in perspective. ONS offered a slide that showed other comparable
international blackouts over the last 30 years, including the four
day East Coast blackout in 2003, detailing both the extent and
duration of the blackouts; a comparison in which the Brazil blackout
fared well. Coimbra told Econoff that an American engineering
association had sent an official letter of congratulations to the
Center for Electrical Research, CEPAL, on the rapid recovery of the
system and inviting them to a U.S. conference in the first part of
next year to share their experiences. Both ONS and MME point out how
quickly most of the system came back (the majority of the affected
areas experienced outages of 20 minutes and the longest outage was
six hours in Sao Paulo). As Grudtner said, the electrical sector was
happy because the system functioned as it should have and came back
comparatively quickly, but the politicians are not. Meanwhile, he
noted wryly, the press is pleased to have fodder for its reports.
Congress has called for hearings on the incident which have had to be
postponed because experts were traveling to the area on a fact
finding mission in order to complete the investigation report.
19. (C) Brazilian officials were strikingly open to discussing the
incident with Embassy personnel, non-defensive in response to
questions, and forthcoming with their information and assessments.
The willingness of the President of ONS and MME Chief of Staff to
meet on such a technical issue and provide detailed information to
the Embassy demonstrates the importance they place on ensuring the
USG has an understanding of the blackout and Brazil's capability to
handle major events in the future. Blackouts in Brazil are not
uncommon (in fact Rio experienced another blackout on November 23
which has been attributed to disruptions in transmission, possibly
due to stolen cables). However, the scale of the November 10
blackout, which garnered undesired international attention, may
prompt Brazil to seek long-lasting solutions to weaknesses in and
threats to its electricity supply. Heading into a major election
year, the GOB will likely want to show they are taking measures to
rebuild public trust. In light of the openness displayed by GOB
officials in discussing this event, combined with a desire to show
progress on addressing the issue, the USG has an opportunity to work
with the GOB as they seek to identify possible improvements that will
yield real results in the physical security and reliability of its
20. (C) Having devoted much time and many resources to correcting
problems in national electricity supply that were endemic in 2001,
the GOB is proud of its interlinked national transmission system and
has tended to view the blackouts that do occur as isolated incidents
or as problems with local distribution systems. On recent visits to
the United States, Energy Deputy Minister Zimmermann suggested that
transmission and long-range distribution might be a subject in which
Brazil has expertise it could share with the United States in an
energy cooperation agreement. While GOB will be highly resistant to
the idea that other countries are more advanced than they are in
transmission and distribution, GOB officials do acknowledge there is
some room for improvement in their system. We will know more about
the immediate cause of Brazil's major blackout in a few weeks but in

BRASILIA 00001382 005 OF 005

the meantime, there are opportunities for the USG to take advantage
of GOB's openness, highlighting the outage as reason for more
engagement as well as preparations toward the 2014 World Cup and 2016
21. (C) This would be an excellent occasion to encourage the
military to military Communication and Information Security
Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), noting that although this incident
does not appear to have been the result of an attack on the system,
such an event is possible and signing this agreement would permit
cooperation were one to occur. We could also consider a
cybersecurity working group. Brazil might be open to pursuing
cooperation on critical infrastructure protection, and MME has
already told us they would be interested in learning more about our
emergency broadcasting system. It is clear that physical security
has not heretofore been a major focus for planners but officials
acknowledge the possibility of an attack and are working on
developing protections, another possible area for fruitful
cooperation as a follow up from DHS visit in the later part of 2008.
22. (C) Regarding infrastructure development, USTDA is now exploring
the possibility of sponsoring an orientation visit or a field study
on electrical power. Up to this point, USTDA has not pursued
cooperation in the electrical area. Most infrastructure projects in
this centralized electrical system are at the federal level, which
generally translates into more bureaucracy and longer implementation
times than projects undertaken at the state or local level. There
are, however, electrical distribution issues which need to be
addressed at the state and local levels that could benefit from USTDA
involvement, possibly offering another means of engagement to help
Brazil solve its electrical challenges. Prior to this event, the
Energy Ministry had highlighted Smartgrid technology as one area that
would be of interest to them in cooperation, perhaps more so now.
23. (C) Mission encourages USG agencies, including DOD, DHS, FCC, TDA
and others, to explore these opportunities in the near-term. END
24. (U) This cable has been coordinated with ConGens Rio de Janeiro
and Sao Paulo.


© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
World Headlines

UN News: Aid Access Is Key Priority

Among the key issues facing diplomats is securing the release of a reported 199 Israeli hostages, seized during the Hamas raid. “History is watching,” says Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths. “This war was started by taking those hostages. Of course, there's a history between Palestinian people and the Israeli people, and I'm not denying any of that. But that act alone lit a fire, which can only be put out with the release of those hostages.” More

Save The Children: Four Earthquakes In a Week Leave Thousands Homeless

Families in western Afghanistan are reeling after a fourth earthquake hit Herat Province, crumbling buildings and forcing people to flee once again, with thousands now living in tents exposed to fierce winds and dust storms. The latest 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit 30 km outside of Herat on Sunday, shattering communities still reeling from strong and shallow aftershocks. More

UN News: Nowhere To Go In Gaza

UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said some 1.1M people would be expected to leave northern Gaza and that such a movement would be “impossible” without devastating humanitarian consequences and appeals for the order to be rescinded. The WHO joined the call for Israel to rescind the relocation order, which amounted to a “death sentence” for many. More

Access Now: Telecom Blackout In Gaza An Attack On Human Rights

By October 10, reports indicated that fixed-line internet, mobile data, SMS, telephone, and TV networks are all seriously compromised. With significant and increasing damage to the electrical grid, orders by the Israeli Ministry of Energy to stop supplying electricity and the last remaining power station now out of fuel, many are no longer able to charge devices that are essential to communicate and access information. More


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.