OMG - like this outage affected IMPORTANT people doing IMPORTANT things! Like Pepco is sooooooo bad!
This article covers the basics, and with a few additional details from WaPo's more dramatic version, here's the story:
A hot 230-kV transmission line (conductor) just randomly fell off its tower in Southern Maryland. No storm. No damage. It just broke for no apparent reason. Live, uninsulated transmission line on the ground started a grass fire. Lucky it didn't fall on any people, vehicles, etc. that happened to be in the right-of-way at that time. The fault caused a bunch of other lines and generators to trip offline in self-defense against resulting voltage swings. And the lights went out many miles away in Washington, D.C.
So, no big deal, faults happen. But the grid is supposed to be designed so that other lines instantly spring to life and take the load of the one out of service and the fault ends up being nothing more than a barely-noticed blip. But that didn't happen, it started to cascade to other lines and generators. Comparison was made to the 2003 northeast blackout, when a fault on a transmission line in Ohio cascaded into a regional blackout. The concept is quite the same, but the effect not as far-reaching. Do you suppose we'll need a multi-million dollar government task force to examine the incident?
What's the real problem here?
Lack of maintenance and upgrades to existing transmission lines. The industry is so busy chasing the big profits that come from building NEW transmission that they aren't investing their money in maintaining the assets already in service. Perhaps our federal regulatory agencies need to start encouraging maintenance and rebuilds of aging lines with financial incentives?
And then there's the problem of parasites like DC that have no generation of their own and depend on transmission lines from distant generators. The more transmission lines we build, and the more centralized the system that supplies electricity, the bigger this problem becomes.
Stop it. Stupid.
Distributed generation and less transmission lines = reliability.