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Special Report

Fortnightly Magazine - September 15 1999

They see utilities responding, but fear outlying areas are overlooked.

Despite reports of year 2000-readiness from virtually all electric utilities, and a promise from the U.S. Department of Energy to pressure the laggards, some customers still fear being left in the dark on Jan. 1, 2000. That view may surprise some, but it emerged clearly from the conference held in Chicago August 5-6 by the North American Electric Reliability Council, to update utilities and their customers on electric industry progress in Y2K problem mitigation.

"The small mom-and-pop shops are worried," said Susie Boardman, senior vice president and general manager at Bank of America's Year 2000 BAC Project Office. Boardman told workshop attendees that she is concerned that small utilities will not be Y2K-ready before the end of the year.

The Y2K problem concerns the possible malfunction of older computer software due to interpretation of the year code "00" as 1900 instead of 2000. The worry is that such malfunctions may lead to power failures.

"Bank of America has provided backup generators to critical systems at 5,000 of our bank branches, but there are bank branches located in areas where utilities have not responded to bank inquiries about their Y2K status," Boardman said

John Sulek, national energy manager in the facility management division at Kmart Corp., also attended the meeting. He said he is especially concerned that Kmart stores in rural areas will not receive power because small utilities may lack resources to address Y2K problems.

NERC and DOE: The Company Line

An August report from NERC found that of the 268 bulk electric organizations reporting monthly to the council, 17 (6.3 percent) indicated they are neither fully Y2K-ready nor Y2K-ready with limited exception. Of these 17 entities, eight expect to be Y2K-ready by the end of July, three by the end of August, five by the end of September and the last one in October.

The American Public Power Association reported similar results in its August survey of 2,012 public power entities. APPA found that 90 percent were Y2K-ready, while 8 percent were not and the condition of another 2 percent was unknown.

In addition, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in its August report found that 13 percent of 858 co-ops were not Y2K-ready, while the status of the last 1 percent was unknown.

In an effort to put pressure on those utilities that are not 100 percent ready for the Y2K rollover, the DOE in late September will publish a list of utilities that have not yet reported on Y2K readiness, according to Deputy Secretary T.J. Glauthier. In late summer the DOE concluded its own "spot check" audits on a small number of utilities to confirm information reported to the agency.

Terry Devaney, project leader of the NERC/DOE "spot check" audits, found that system upgrades for field monitoring and control were behind schedule. Small utilities, in particular, were working hard to become Y2K-ready, he said.

Devaney noted that small utilities depend on power from wholesalers and will not be able to operate if power is interrupted during the rollover. Only