Doubts About Utility Failures? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Greetings all:

I just finished watching our local 12:00 news here in Northern Illinois. The heatwave that has stifled much of the Midwest has been with us (105 heat index) for two days. There has been concern over the past month over whether our regional electrical utility (Commonwealth Edison) would be able to sustain electrical production in the event of a serious heatwave. Toward the end of the aforementioned newscast, a representative of ComEd was live on the phone making appeals to the public to curtail unnecessary air-conditioning and electrical appliance usage. Indeed, ComEd has already requested that some of their large commercial customers shut down non-essential operations  and has gotten compliance.

This, in spite of the fact that all 20 of the utilitys fossil plants are operational, 8 of its 12 nuclear reactors (6 plants, 2 reactors each) are on line and additional power has been purchased from other utilities.

In the 9 months ending in September of 1997, 59% of our power in this area came from nuclear plants. One of the reactors (at Dresden) was up to approximately 50% capacity earlier this week after an unanticipated shutdown Saturday. This was the fourth unanticipated shutdown (of the same reactor!) this year. Kind of shocking to learn that for the first time.

The plant at Zion is permanently closed. The nuclear plant at LaSalle tops the NRCs shit list for safety violations. The rest of the nuclear plants have had their share of trouble  ComEd has paid several million dollars in fines over the past few years (exactly figures elude me at the moment).

All this WITHOUT a Y2K problem.

Granted, ComEd has been lackluster in its performance for quite some time and this scenario will definitely not be applicable to most regions of the country. However, anyone who has serious doubts about the possibility of critical electrical utility failure come 2000, please start from the beginning and read this post again.

I still believe I have a shred of hope left for minor utility disruptions. I am also losing my grip on it

Regards, PMB

P.S. I just ran a spell check on this post. Words first suggestion for ComEd was commode! Ha!

-- PMB (, June 25, 1998


Whoops! I neglected to mention another sticky point. One of the reasons offered by the ComEd rep for the present peak load condition was that a tornado in OHIO had damaged a generator there. If true, can you say "ripple effect"?


-- PMB (, June 25, 1998.

There is a very interesting report available at the site of the North American Electric Reliability Council, at on the outlook for the period 1997-2006. It indicates that the Illinois-Wisconsin region and the New England region have the least surplus power. It also discusses how nuclear power plants are frequently having to be shut down 5 years earlier than originally planned, making future forecasts of availability possibly overly optimistic. Curiously, it makes no mention of Y2k.

Another item of information is a map published by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at which shows wehre the 110 nuclear power plants are (13 in Illinois). Makes me glad I live west of the Mississippi (way west). <<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>.....

-- Dan Hunt (, June 25, 1998.


The electric utility has a couple of areas of vulnerability- generation and distribution.

The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) recently said quietly that their interest was safety, not necessarily power generation. If you depend on nuke juice for a major portion of your power I think it would be wise to anticipate that all the nuke plants will be taken offline before bug day and brought back up slowly, with full crews ready to handle any unexpected maladies that develop. How fast they'll be back to 100% depends on what kinds of problems show up. A friend of mine who works in one of the nuke plants tells me nothing critical is machine controlled and everything can be handled manually. He insists there will be no problems of any magnitude in the plants he's familiar with. He should know, and he wouldn't beat around the bush if there were problems he knew about.

That leaves distribution. If 60% of your generating capacity goes offline at the same time there won't be much to distribute. There may be problems with embedded processors in the distribution system as well, even if generation side of the equation holds up OK. Since it'll be winter I think it's best to be ready in case there are problems.

The New Year's Day weekend is listed as an 'off peak' demand day by one of the utility industry groups. Let's hope this one is.

I've made a bet that a 5kw generator is good insurance, myself. That and a tee off the gas line for a propane space heater for backup (we cook and heat with gas, but the furnace needs electricity) should cover it for the short term. If it goes long term (God I hope not) I have to dig out the old wood stove and sharpen the crosscut saws. I don't wanna do that stuff any more, but it beats freezing. And I sure won't have anything better to do... .


-- Lee P. Lapin (, June 25, 1998.

Do they say why they are having trouble: generation capacity or transmission overload?

If the former, you are right to be worried about what Y2K may bring.

If the latter, it's a specific weather-related problem. Electricity lines heat up as more power is pumped through them. If it's winter, there's plenty of natural cooling. If the line is being baked in abnormally high summer temperatures, its capacity is reduced at precisely the time that every airconditioner is running its hardest.

-- Nigel Arnot (, June 26, 1998.

The ComEd problem is primarily due to generation capacity which is due to their not investing enough money in their infrastructure in recent years to insure that they would have adequate power for their customers during peak demands.

Their solution to peak demands has been to buy the electricity from other companies as this need arose. But since their suppliers have encountered power problems of their own during this past week what with all the storms which have swept across the country, they have not been able to honor their contracts with ComEd. This caused ComEd to go hunting around for power to buy. They almost did not find any to buy. That which they finally found cost them top dollar....$5 per kilowatt hour verses 5 cents under normal purchasing conditions. Fortunately, due to new laws, ComEd can't pass this cost along to the consumer and must eat it themselves.

Go to the Chicago Tribune site for an detailed write up on ComEd's recent problems.

It sounds like ComEd lacked good management in recent years. Since ComEd did not do the necessary investing over the years to maintain their infrastructure, how can we count on this utility company to invest in a Y2K project so that they are compliant come the year 2000? And how many other ComEds are out there? I live in the Chicago area and I'm very worried.

-- Joyce (, June 26, 1998.

The above url will take you to the ComEd's y2k project website. They have one in place but their progress is relatively unknown at least to me. I contacted the the y2k project manager and our conversation can be seen in the Millennium Salons forum at:

There are also other good resources and tools people can use to deal and cope with this problem at this site. Good Luck!

-- Tom Scully (, July 01, 1998.

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