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Summary and Comments

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Category: 

Power_Grid

Date: 

1998-04-07 16:39:12

Subject: 

Good News from Joel Skousen (A Rare Event)

Comment: 

Joel Skousen -- Mark's survivalist brother -- thinks that nuclear war will devastate the US by 2003. I think a collapse of the power grid is more likely. Good men can disagree.

Here is his report on power in the Northwest.

* * * * * * *

These past couple of days, I have been able to talk to a couple of the higher ups in the Power Distribution end of Pacific Power Corp, the major Supplier of Power to the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West. One was in Dispatch (who controls routing of power), and the other was head of the Electronic Monitoring System (EMS) division (which is the main electronic system that supplies critical data as to status, voltage, and line/switch integrity throughout the power system), and who is also a member of the Y2k team. Here's what I was able to confirm: There are 3 or 4 master EMS stations in the Northwest that are absolutely critical for controlling power within the region. These are all fairly recent vintage electronic control units and appear, from current testing and simulations, that they are going to function well at the millenium. There are no COBOL programs controlling them, mostly embedded logic systems that are being upgraded where necessary with few problems. The head of EMS said he really did not expect to see any problems at the master level. He did indicate however that there are a fair amount of older vintage "submaster" systems under this master level that could present a problem. Being older, it is harder to get a handle on testing and fixing the embedded logic. On the other hand, both he and the one of the top dispatchers I spoke with said they can override these submaster controlls and even the relays at the substation level. But to do so, they have to physically send people out in the field to actuate these relays at the substations. The problem with manual overrides, however, is that (if electronic monitoring is down, or partially down) they may not be able to determine if the relay tripped due to a physical fault or a monitoring glitch. So my earlier point about liability being a major deterrent against override is valid--at least until a crisis arises. Only then, I think the powers that be will be under sufficient pressure to get the local power grid back up despite the "unknown" risk. Again, the Utility people I talked to felt this would only be an issue at the substation levels, not at the major distribution level which will be or is already y2k compliant. So, in summary, the non-programmed electronic functions are not going to be much of a problem. The hydroelectric system will produce power and that power can be distributed. Those I talked to did confirm that the software controlled problems were localized at the sources of power generation, and have to do with safety and periodic maintenance functions. Hydroelectric has the least complexity, followed by coal plants. The most vulnerable to bad safety software are the nuclear plants, of which there are few in the Northwest. All generating sources have manual-electronic bypasses, so the problem of computer generated maintenance checks and safety software can be bypassed if it isn't in compliance in time. But this becomes a political and liability issue more than a physical problem, ultimately. Finally I asked the EMS director to give me a gut feeling or prognosis for Y2k problem/compliance and the possibility of a major break down in the grid. He said he felt confident that almost all the control systems would be fully tested and compliant by 2000, and that the major breakdown scenario was extremely remote for the Northwest--he could not speak for other regions. He did say there could be some small pockets of problems at the sub and submaster station level, but that they could be worked around, manually, in fairly short order.


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