The lights didn’t go out in Georgia or anywhere else in NorthAmerica last week during an industry-wide testing of electricutility systems for potential computer glitches that could mar thetransition to the new millennium, according to officials with theNorth American Electric Reliability Council (NERC).

“It went exceedingly well,” said Ron Niebo, assistant to thepresident of NERC, which coordinated the exercise. “Everybody hopedthat it would run well, but we anticipated there were going to becertain problems with the 9/9/99 number. Those never materialized.We expected that there might be some extremely minordistribution-type…and communications problems. Those are allresolved. It went very well. We can only go up from here.”

He estimated that about 15,000 personnel at 400-500 electricutilities in the United States, Canada and Mexico participated inthe dress rehearsal for the rollover to the new millennium. Niebosaid most of the participating utilities owned transmission andgeneration assets that are critical to maintaining the reliabilityof 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 datacommunications; testing back-up control centers; and reviewingimplementation plans for emergencies, Niebo said.

Utilities closely monitored their systems as Sept. 8 rolled overto Sept. 9, 1999 at midnight. The date (the ninth day of the ninthmonth of ’99) was considered a pre-Y2K test date by some computerexperts because the older mainframe computers used 9999 to mark theend of a program or file, and then would stop processing. But noneof the participating electric utilities reported anyrollover-related problems.

The success of the exercise seems to have reduced the utilityindustry’s fears that some older computers may interpret “00” as1900 instead of 2000 on Jan. 1, causing havoc to their transmissionand generation operations.

“The 9/9/99 drill provided us with an opportunity to assess ourreadiness with just over 100 days left until the Year 2000,” saidEnergy Secretary Bill Richardson, who participated in a midnightdrill at the department’s Bonneville Power Administration (BPA)facility in Vancouver, WA. “While the nationwide test went smoothlyand contingency plans, including back-up communications systems,appeared in order, it is imperative that the utility sectorcontinues to be diligent in [its] testing.”

The latest test was an improvement over the preliminary drillthat occurred last April, which turned up “some problem areas,”Niebo said. In the months ahead, there will be some testing atindividual electric utilities, but there won’t be any moreindustry-wide tests, he noted. “The next big test will be theactual Y2K.”

Duke Energy used the opportunity to also conduct a Y2K drill ofits other business units, including gas pipelines (Texas EasternTransmission and Algonquin Gas Transmission), national andinternational units, and energy trading and marketing. A companyspokeswoman said “no problems” had been detected during theThursday exercise.

On the electric side, the drill “was a good dress rehearsal” forDuke Power, said Richard J. Osborne, executive vice president andcorporate sponsor of Duke Energy’s Year 2000 Readiness Program. “Wedidn’t find major flaws in our response plans, but we did identifysome areas for improvement.” He said the business units plan to dodetailed evaluations of their exercise results, as well as carryout additional drills in the remaining months leading up to thetransition.

“The rehearsal was valuable in that it allowed us to practicethe contingency plans in a realistic fashion,” said Harry L.Terhune, assistant executive director of the Mid-AmericaInterconnected Network (MAIN), whose member utilities serve theMidwest. “The experience will be used to develop additionaltraining and refine procedures in the plans to assure reliability.”

During the drill, he noted electric system operators in theMidwest region were in contact and shared data with each other from10:30 a.m. Wednesday to about 2 a.m. Thursday, simulating the NewYear’s rollover.

Susan Parker

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