We are the world's experts on contingencies," boasted Michehl Ghent, president of the North American Electric Reliability Council, appearing in Houston on Sept. 17 at the Sixth Annual DOE/NARUC Electricity Forum. It was the very day day that NERC released its first comprehensive report on readiness in the electric utility industry in correcting computer software problems associated with the dawning the next century, which for the first time will require computers, software programs and embedded chips to the use four digits to identify the year beginning with turnover from 1999 to 2000.
Ghent's comments set the tone for what could promise to be an aggressive effort by NERC in leading the Electric Sector Working Group in its voluntary effort toward Y2K compliance, well befitting the reputation of NERC engineers as a no-nonsense bunch.
"NERC has 30 years' experience in getting people to participate voluntarily," added Gerry Cauley, NERC's Year 2000 coordinator. "We're not bashful. In further reports we will disclose the names of those who participate in the Y2K process. You'll be able to see who is not participating by a process of elimination."
The contrast could not have been more obvious when on the very next day, at a technical conference held in Washington, D.C., the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission appeared to treat its advisory role as leader of the Oil and Gas Sector Working Group in much softer terms. There it was FERC chairman James Hoecker who chose to leave the three-hour conference after delivering a only fifteen-minute talk. He turned the podium to John Koskenin, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, and to Katie Hirning, the FERC's chief information officer.
During the question-and-answer session that followed, when a reporter noted that NERC intended to apply peer pressure to win the cooperation of electric utilities, and asked whether the Oil and Gas group would do the same, Skip Horvath, executive vice president and chief operating officer at the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, took two steps back. "We've received a handful of letters from attorneys. The most important thing is to get legislation passed to offer protection against potential legal liability for those oil and gas companies that choose to participate and respond to the surveys on Y2K compliance."
Horvath was alluding to the so-called "good Samaritan" legislation, H.R. 4355, the Year 2000 Information Disclosure Act, introduced on July 30. The bill, which appeared headed for quick consideration by the full House in early October, would shield a respondent from liability under federal or state law for any allegedly false, inaccurate or misleading statement concerning Y2K compliance.
Nevertheless, the question of legal liability for damaging disclosures was but one of several issues facing the electricity and the oil and gas sectors on Year 2000 compliance. One important question concerned the point that both groups were planning to receive the results of their final surveys on industry progress as late as the fall of 1999.
Out in Houston, that prospect prompted Deputy Energy Secretary Elizabeth Moler to interject: "You would be getting an 'F' from Congress for