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1998-06-13 20:38:58


Senate Hearings on the Grid: Media Coverage Is High



Senator Bennett's Committee is taking a bipartisan stance. Senator Dodd is as hard core as Sen. Bennett is.

This committee's June 12 hearings hit the media. The power grid is the premier domino. If it goes down, all the others will fall. It may go down.

This is from the Microsoft/NBC site (June 12). Note that at the bottom of the document are four links to y2k sites. Mine is the fourth.

Word is getting out: about y2k and about my site.

I will be mainstream before 1999 ends. And when I am, all my critics will say, "Lucky guess."

* * * * * * * * * * *

CHAIRMAN ROBERT Bennett, R-Utah, said a survey his office sent to 10 of the nation’s largest electric, oil and gas utilities showed their preparations to ward off Year 2000 bugs were lagging. Eight of the companies had not even finished assessing their automated systems, a first step in tackling the problem, Bennett said.

“I had anticipated that I would be able to provide a positive report on the Year 2000 status of these public utilities,” he said. “Instead, based on the results of this survey, I am genuinely concerned about the very real prospects of power shortages as a consequence of the millennial date change.”

And it was Bennett who warned that he felt there was “a 100 percent chance” the U.S. power grid would collapse if today were Jan. 1, 2000. Because the date is 18 months away, he estimated the chance of collapse on that date is 40 percent — not as high, but still significant. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., the committee co-chair was as pessimistic as Bennett, saying he feared many government and business leaders hadn’t even drafted contingency plans.

The government and industry experts who testified Friday were unable to reassure the committee that utilities were ready for Jan. 1, 2000. “The state of year 2000 readiness of the utility industry is largely unknown,” warned the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, James Hoecker. . . .

The committee’s first hearing focused on utilities because of their key role in the economy.

In the case of electric utilities, at risk are about 6,000 power plants, half a million miles of high-voltage power lines and about 112,000 substations. These in turn depend on built-in, preprogrammed microprocessors called “embedded systems,” many of which contain the Year 2000, or Y2K, bug.

“If the power grid goes down because of connections in the computers or because of embedded chips in certain power plants that shut those power plants down because of bad software somewhere, then it is all over,” Bennett said last month on the Senate floor. “It doesn’t matter if every computer in the country is Y2K compliant if you can’t plug it into something.”

He added that it’s not just electric utilities either, but gas and water as well. “The water treatment system in every municipality in this country is computer driven,” he said, “and has the potential of being upset because of embedded chips and bad software.” . . .


Even before the hearing began, experts noted that among electric utilities city-owned power companies appeared the most vulnerable.

They provide 25 percent of the nation’s power, but more importantly the nature of the interconnected power grid means that if even only a few utilities aren’t compliant by 2000 the entire grid could be hit hard.

Since all power companies, private and public alike, are interconnected, outages anywhere can have a ripple effect, destabilizing other parts of the grid and triggering outages sometimes several states away.

“The whole is only as strong as the all the pieces ... the whole grid has to work as well,” said Mike McClure, head of Year 2000 efforts at the Atlanta-based utility Southern Company.

McClure and Dennis Grabow, head of The Millennium Investment Corp., are among those who believe that city-owned utilities are lagging behind investor-owned power companies. “I am definitely concerned,” Grabow said. “Some of the municipal companies, often for lack of budget, haven’t even started the inventory or checking process.” THE EMBEDDED PROBLEM

The heart of the utilities’ problem are the “embedded systems,” or the many computer chips contained within a single mainframe computer.

“When you consider the number of chips that need changing, outages are almost a certainty,” said Andrew Pegalis, head of Next Millennium Consulting. “Embedded systems require a monumental effort. They first must be located, they must then be tested, and some of the manufacturers of these chips have gone out of business, which means you often don’t know how they were programmed.”


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