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NERC Not Sweating Y2K

September 21, 1998
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NERC Not Sweating Y2K

Don't worry. Be happy. Or at least don't fret over electric power reliability on New Year's Eve 1999. The initial word is in from the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), and things don't look as bad as some would have thought.

"NERC describes itself as 'cautiously optimistic' that electrical systems will be able to sustain reliable operations through critical Y2K transition periods. That is certainly welcome news," Deputy Energy Secretary Elizabeth Moler told attendees at the Department of Energy-National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners electricity forum, held in Houston in conjunction with the 17th Congress of the World Energy Council.

"However, we share NERC's view that the industry needs to accelerate its efforts, particularly in the areas of testing and remediation of mission-critical systems that could be affected by Y2K problems. We will continue to monitor the situation closely as NERC updates its surveys and reports."

On May 1, the DOE asked NERC to coordinate and assess the electric industry's readiness for Y2K to ensure that steps are being taken to ensure reliability.

Moler made her remarks before a "small but hearty band of people interested in things electric." She described her worst-case scenario for the dawn of 2000: a New York City power failure occurring in the middle of the fabled descent of the lighted ball heralding the new year. "My friends at Con Edison - the utility that serves Times Square - assure me they have thought of this," Moler said.

Gerry Cauley, NERC's Y2K coordinator, presented highlights of the NERC report to the DOE. "We feel the risks are there. They're real, but the risks are manageable." In its survey of the electric power industry, the NERC had participation reaching 75%, including responses from 160 of 200 bulk electric operating entities. Among areas critical to success of a Y2K transition are project planning and management, nuclear and non-nuclear generation, and telecommunications.

Much of the work to prepare for 2000 has been completed, but much remains to be done. NERC recommends accelerating efforts. So far, about 87% of the inventory of potential problems is completed. This figure is misleading, Cauley said, as it includes some entities with very little accomplished, which brings down the figure for the majority who have more work done. About 65% of assessment work is completed, and about 28% of work to replace components or otherwise fix identified problems has been finished. The inventory is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, and assessments are expected to be completed by Oct. 31. Testing is to be finished by May 31, 1999, and implementation is to complete by the end of June 1999.

The electric power industry has to be concerned not just with its own systems but with those of the telecommunications, transportation, and gas transportation industries as well. Reacting to the NERC report, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) played down the industry's reliance on computers. "The U.S. electric supply and delivery systems are not heavily reliant on computers and electronic controls," EEI said. "Those operations that do rely on computer systems can be manually operated in emergencies - and often are during power outages arising from storms or mechanical problems."

Cauley said the operations of power marketers were not examined as part of the survey. Power marketers could indeed be asked to suspend some activity during the leap to 2000, he conceded. He said marketers may be asked to firm up transmission arrangements in advance of New Year's Eve. "I think an extreme measure would be a 24-hour period without new electronic transactions. That's the worst case."

Joe Fisher, Houston

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