The day that lined up four “9s” across the calendar passed uneventfully for the majority of North America`s electric utilities, as a once-in-a-century occurrence helped dispel fears about the nation`s electricity supply in the new millennium.
As the clock struck midnight on Sept. 9, 1999, utilities conducted a nationwide drill, coordinated by the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC). Electric utilities tested how workers would respond in emergency situations, such as an outage at a major power plant, or loss of the normal communications systems. The event was an overall preparedness test of Y2K and Jan. 1, 2000.
Potential concern with the 9/9/99 date was based upon the fact that in order to save memory space, earlier computers were programmed to read only the last two digits of a date, such as “99” for 1999. When the calendar changes to 2000, computer systems could believe it is 1900 and malfunction or even shut down.
U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson personally supervised a test of the national power grid at the Bonneville Power Administration`s (BPA`s) control center in Vancouver, Wash. BPA owns and operates more than 15,000 miles of high-voltage electricity transmission lines across eight western states.
While he conceded that the choice of “9999” for the drill was largely symbolic, Richardson used the opportunity of the drill to point out that while 99 percent of the nation`s electricity supply was Y2K-ready, 28 power providers were not yet up to speed on preventing potential computer glitches. Richardson said 12 major electric utility providers were either not ready for the millennium, or were on a list compiled by NERC as having limited Y2K-related problems. An additional 16 municipal utilities and rural cooperatives had not reported their progress efforts.
Richardson ordered random reviews of another 20 electric utilities over the coming months as part of the U.S. Department of Energy`s (DOE`s) overall audit of Y2K-readiness. The reviews would augment audits of 36 such utilities already undertaken by Richardson`s department. The audits completed to date generally confirm information regarding the overall status of industry Y2K readiness.
Following NERC`s final Y2K status report in August, DOE sent letters to utilities “not yet ready” or “ready with exceptions,” as well as to municipal and cooperative utilities which had not yet reported the status of readiness efforts.
However, in some select instances, the lay media`s reporting of the issue caused problems for utilities appearing on various NERC and DOE compliance lists.
Cogentrix Energy Inc., headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., said it had received numerous inquiries concerning its Y2K readiness because of a Sept. 8th New York Times article which was based upon on an earlier DOE press release. Cogentrix confirms its generating plants are capable of running through the Y2K date change; in a letter to DOE dated Sept. 7, Cogentrix noted two plants required software upgrades. These upgrades were needed to maintain vendor support and were not specifically Y2K related. One software upgrade was recently installed and the second will be completed and tested in October.
Cleco Corp., an energy services company based in Pineville, La., and retail electric services provider, also participated in the two-day series of tests. NERC, which had originally reported Cleco as not yet ready for Y2K, says it will upgrade the utility to “ready with exceptions” status and would include the company in a revised compliance list to be posted the week after the Y2K drill. According to Y2K Drill Coordinator Matt Bordelon, as soon as Cleco was able to resolve a power plant equipment issue, the company would upgrade its readiness status.
Elsewhere in Louisiana, NERC and the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and NERC officials have indicated that Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) was also ready to announce its Y2K-ready status. According to LUS Director Terry Huval, LUS officially gave notice Sept. 7 to NERC and SPP that it would be Y2K ready in accordance with NERC compliance criteria. Prior press coverage about the utility`s status did not include up-to-date information from a key DOE report.