The Future of Electricity
Passing the Y2K test
Electric utilities don't expect the power to go off when
computer clocks roll the year forward from 99 to 00 this coming
New Year's Eve.
But what if it does?
Now they're ready for that, too. In a nationwide drill last
month they practiced what they would do if utility computers shut
down because they confused 2000 with 1900.
"It was a pretty boring night, but that's what I
expected it to be," says Mark Linsberg, Year 2000 Project
team leader for East Kentucky Power Cooperative in Winchester,
which generates and transmits electricity to 17 electric co-ops in
the state. He adds, "That's what we expect December 31 to be
The purpose of the drill, on the night of September 8-9,
was to pretend that the so-called Year 2000 problem, or Y2K,
somehow did shut down the main communications systems at utilities
across the country. So between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., the utilities
had people standing by at all the power plants and crucial
substations on their systems-exactly like they will be doing this
coming December 31-January 1. Those crews had backup two-way
radios that allowed them to relay information about any power
problems, so they could be fixed right away.
Failures of those main utility coordinating systems is not
expected-previous tests have successfully simulated rolling the
clocks forward to 2000 on that equipment.
Still, electricity is so crucial to everything these days,
the North American Electric Reliability Council, a utility
industry group, decided to run the September backup drill.
At Big Rivers Electric Corporation in Henderson, which
supplies electricity to three electric co-ops in western Kentucky,
the September drill also went well, although it was a little more
exciting than the East Kentucky test. Dave Crockett, Big Rivers'
manager of engineering and operations, reported there was noise on
one of their two-way radios and that it would have to be repaired.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplies electricity
to five electric co-ops in southwestern Kentucky, reports the test
The September 9 date was chosen for the test because old
programs written for some of the first computers used 9999 as a
code to end the program. Some people speculated that when the date
hit 9/9/99, computers might shut down. Electric utilities reported
no such problems on the morning of September 9.
On that morning U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson summed up
the results of the tests, saying, "The success of the drills
held today is yet another step to assure electricity customers
that the lights will stay on in the new millennium."
Y2K dress rehearsal-9/9/99
No problems reported
Involved in the drill were 15,000 utility employees,
400-500 utilities, and more than 1,000 substations and power
plants in the U.S. and Canada.
For a summary report on the September 9 drill (scheduled to
be available in early October) and general Y2K information, visit
the NERC website at www.nerc.com/y2k.
Information in this box supplied by the North American Electric
Reliability Council, a not-for-profit industry group that sets
standards "to keep the lights on" in North America.