Nation: Edge of Darkness

For much of the week the Northeastern seaboard flickered close to a massive power failure. The halls of office buildings, their lights dimmed to conserve electricity, were restfully muted, without their usual operating-room fluorescence. That was the best to be said for it. As power companies imposed "dimouts"—cutting their output of voltage as much as 8%—air conditioners labored and sometimes failed.

The odd thing was that a mere change in the weather—an unexpected late-September hot spell—could bring one of the world's largest electric systems so close to total blowout. Public utility companies, which have encouraged customers to buy more appliances to consume...

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