Cascading failures in large-scale electric power transmission systems are an important cause of blackouts. Analysis of North American blackout data has revealed power law (algebraic) tails in the blackout size probability distribution which suggests a dynamical origin. With this observation as motivation, we examine cascading failure in a simplified transmission system model as load power demand is increased. The model represents generators, loads, the transmission line network, and the operating limits on these components. Two types of critical points are identified and are characterized by transmission line flow limits and generator capability limits, respectively. Results are obtained for tree networks of a regular form and a more realistic 118-node network. It is found that operation near critical points can produce power law tails in the blackout size probability distribution similar to those observed. The complex nature of the solution space due to the interaction of the two critical points is examined.

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