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Y2K will have "minimal impact" on electricity

A new report in a series of assessments of the electric utility industry's Y2K readiness indicates that the problem will have a "minimal impact" on electric power operations in North America.

    A new report in a series of quarterly assessments of Year 2000 readiness of the electric utility industry optimistically indicates that the Year 2000 technology problem will have a "minimal impact" on electric power operations in North America.

    The report, conducted by the North American Electric Reliability Council for the U.S. Energy Department, has sparked criticism by some who feel the industry's self assessment doesn't go far enough to ensure that the majority of electric power facilities that take part in the survey are compliant, that the pace of conversion efforts is moving fast enough, and that the proper contingency planning is in place.

    The NERC report showed that more than 44 percent of mission-critical components had been tested as of November 30, 1998, when the survey was conducted--and that problems associated with Year 2000 date manipulations "do not appear to affect the ability to keep generators and power delivery facilities in service and electricity supplied to customers."

    However, the report also notes that some entities are not on schedule to meet NERC's suggested target date for Y2K readiness--namely, achievement of full readiness of mission critical systems by the end of June.

    "This is a matter of significant concern--in the Y2K readiness league, our goal must be to have a 1.000 batting average," Energy Department Secretary Bill Richardson said after he received the report. "I applaud the industry's intention to apply peer pressure to advance the programs of those who may be falling behind and I am fully prepared to add my own voice to these efforts if necessary," he said.

    Overall participation in the industry-coordinated readiness assessment exceeds 98 percent of the electrical systems in the United States and Canada, according to the NERC.

    But in an analysis report on the NERC study released last Friday by Rick Cowles, a founding member of the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility's Y2K Working Group and an expert on the impact of Y2K on the electric power industry and microprocessor based control systems, the NERC was criticized for relying on industry averages in determining compliance with preestablished NERC timelines for completion of Y2K efforts.

    "Averages rarely tell the complete story," Cowles stated in his report.

    Although he admits he didn't see a draft of the NERC report before releasing Back to Year 2000 Index Page his, Cowles said he based his analysis on the November 1998 data the NERC gathered for its final report, as well as the November and December 1998 teleconference minutes between NERC members, all of which are available to the public on the NERC Web site.

    Cowles also found fault with the NERC claim that 96 percent of the U.S. electric industry responded to the survey. He said based on his analysis of the data, only 75 percent of the industry responded by the end of the November survey.

    Calls to the NERC were not returned.

    But in a statement released with the report yesterday, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association chief engineer and chair of its Year 2000 Task Group, Ron Greenhalgh, said "although we expect no major disruptions in either the bulk electric system or the distribution systems as a result of the Y2K date problem, we will continue to encourage, track, and report electric cooperatives' preparations not only for NERC's reports to the Energy Department, but also to help reassure co-op and other utility customers that the industry will continue its excellent service record."