Electric Utilities Get High Marks in Y2K Test
The lights didn't go out in Georgia or anywhere else in North
America last week during an industry-wide testing of electric
utility systems for potential computer glitches that could mar the
transition to the new millennium, according to officials with the
North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC).
"It went exceedingly well," said Ron Niebo, assistant to the
president of NERC, which coordinated the exercise. "Everybody hoped
that it would run well, but we anticipated there were going to be
certain problems with the 9/9/99 number. Those never materialized.
We expected that there might be some extremely minor
distribution-type...and communications problems. Those are all
resolved. It went very well. We can only go up from here."
He estimated that about 15,000 personnel at 400-500 electric
utilities in the United States, Canada and Mexico participated in
the dress rehearsal for the rollover to the new millennium. Niebo
said most of the participating utilities owned transmission and
generation assets that are critical to maintaining the reliability
of the grid.
During the drill, which began last Wednesday morning (Sept. 8)
and ended after midnight, utilities conducted a battery of tests,
which included simulating the loss of energy management systems,
supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and data
communications; testing back-up control centers; and reviewing
implementation plans for emergencies, Niebo said.
Utilities closely monitored their systems as Sept. 8 rolled over
to Sept. 9, 1999 at midnight. The date (the ninth day of the ninth
month of '99) was considered a pre-Y2K test date by some computer
experts because the older mainframe computers used 9999 to mark the
end of a program or file, and then would stop processing. But none
of the participating electric utilities reported any
The success of the exercise seems to have reduced the utility
industry's fears that some older computers may interpret "00" as
1900 instead of 2000 on Jan. 1, causing havoc to their transmission
and generation operations.
"The 9/9/99 drill provided us with an opportunity to assess our
readiness with just over 100 days left until the Year 2000," said
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who participated in a midnight
drill at the department's Bonneville Power Administration (BPA)
facility in Vancouver, WA. "While the nationwide test went smoothly
and contingency plans, including back-up communications systems,
appeared in order, it is imperative that the utility sector
continues to be diligent in [its] testing."
The latest test was an improvement over the preliminary drill
that occurred last April, which turned up "some problem areas,"
Niebo said. In the months ahead, there will be some testing at
individual electric utilities, but there won't be any more
industry-wide tests, he noted. "The next big test will be the
Duke Energy used the opportunity to also conduct a Y2K drill of
its other business units, including gas pipelines (Texas Eastern
Transmission and Algonquin Gas Transmission), national and
international units, and energy trading and marketing. A company
spokeswoman said "no problems" had been detected during the
On the electric side, the drill "was a good dress rehearsal" for
Duke Power, said Richard J. Osborne, executive vice president and
corporate sponsor of Duke Energy's Year 2000 Readiness Program. "We
didn't find major flaws in our response plans, but we did identify
some areas for improvement." He said the business units plan to do
detailed evaluations of their exercise results, as well as carry
out additional drills in the remaining months leading up to the
"The rehearsal was valuable in that it allowed us to practice
the contingency plans in a realistic fashion," said Harry L.
Terhune, assistant executive director of the Mid-America
Interconnected Network (MAIN), whose member utilities serve the
Midwest. "The experience will be used to develop additional
training and refine procedures in the plans to assure reliability."
During the drill, he noted electric system operators in the
Midwest region were in contact and shared data with each other from
10:30 a.m. Wednesday to about 2 a.m. Thursday, simulating the New