NERC report to DOE Now Online : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) today provided the U.S. Department of Energy the first comprehensive report on the Year 2000 readiness of the industry's electricity supply and delivery systems for operation in the year 2000. A copy of the report, "Preparing the Electricity Systems of North America for the Transition to the Year 2000" and the NERC press release announcing availability of the report (88 pages) are available on the NERC web site at:

-- Jeff A (, September 17, 1998


This is the one we have been waiting for. It is quite well written, too, making things easy to comprehend. (E.g., to the question "Who is in Charge", the answer is "that's a tough question".) The interdependencies of power grids are well described, as are how hard it would be trying to execute manual contingency plans if other dependencies like telecommunications are down. Who knows, this may possibly be that Final Straw that suddenly gets John Q. Public's attention on Y2K....

-- Joe (, September 17, 1998.

Thanks Jeff! I had reported on another thread that the report was to be released to the public today. Glad to know where to find it! Here is info on a brand new website that EDS and the White House are establishing to check Y2K compliance:

-- Gayla Dunbar (, September 17, 1998.

My reaction is one that was stated in this report: "Cautious Optimism"

-- Buddy Y. (, September 17, 1998.

Buddy, I am always hopeful, too. But to me, the bottom line:

Section 2 Background

2.1 Purpose of this report

"Will the lights go out? The answer is that no one knows for certain..."

-- Gayla Dunbar (, September 17, 1998.

Gayla, since you left out the context within which that statement was made, here is the rest:

===Will the lights go out at midnight, December 31, 1999? Many so-called experts in the news and on the Internet have predicted that the electric systems of North America will suffer major power outages as a result of the Y2K bug. These outages are forecast to last days, weeks or even months as electric utilities scramble to fix hard-to-find problems. Life in North America as we know it will supposedly come to a grinding halt without electricity and make a slow, painstaking recovery. Are these predictions true? One thing we do know  these predictions are not based on facts or rational analysis of information from the industry. That is the purpose of this report. This report provides the first comprehensive review of where the electric industry of North America is in its efforts to identify, fix, and test for the Y2K bug. This report looks at the nature of the Y2K threat in electrical systems, what is being done about it, the schedule for completing the work, and how the industry is preparing to deal with contingencies that may occur. Will the lights go out? The answer is that no one knows for certain yet what the effects of Y2K will be. The risks that Y2K may impact electrical system operations are real  much like the risks that earthquakes or severe weather could cause electrical outages even before the new millenium arrives. In our favor is a workforce of competent people, dedicated to maintaining reliable electric system operations, who are working hard to solve the problem and to keep the lights on.===

-- Buddy Y. (, September 17, 1998.

You know, I wonder how many of these 3200 plants were visited and inspected. Did NERC simply send out forms to be filled out? Were they filled out anonymously? I am very cautious, indeed. Here is a letter from Joe Bell that I got today in response to some questions.


Mainframe computers do not run power plants, and the embedded systems are being addressed. There are surprisingly few pieces of equipment that have brought down a plant from Y2K testing. Any operator should know the key systems, and these are the ones that need to be checked and possibly fixed. There is no need to check them all to keep plants running.

Many plants can be run in manual, and will be at key Y2K dates. The grid can also be dispatched (although less economically) from just a few frequency and voltage measurements.

see more **** comments **** below.....

In a message dated 98-09-16 17:28:58 EDT, you write:

<< Subj: Reply to Joe Date: 98-09-16 17:28:58 EDT From: (Bertin Opus) To: CC: Mr. Bell- I read your comments about Dr. North. I agree that he embellishes and draws conclusions that are faulty. However, I have a question. You commented on the ability of the power plants to restart themselves and 'portions' of the grid. What is the likelyhood of this if the shutdown is due to thousands of embedded and mainframe failures? Most utility companies have not done much work yet, especially small ones.

**** The small ones are "small", which means they have less effect in keeping the grid up or in taking it down. (Some are as small as 30 metered residences with the CEO as electrician, too.) They also do not have as much access (or people who care) when they say what they are doing. EPRI is starting a program to give info from the big guys to small utilties. ****

Is the triage technique you described being used widely?

**** It is in every Y2K methodology I have seen (though Gary North is apparently unaware of it). It is also a logical necessity of actually doing a Y2K project. ****

What about the nukes?

**** The NRC has an effective program that they must satisfy to keep operating. The safety systems and operating control of most nukes is largely analog and not digital. They are in great shape and under close scrutiny. Every letter sent to the NRC is signed by an executive under penalty of perjury, and this is the normal procedure for NRC correspondence. If the nukes are mostly OKed by the NRC in mid-1999, you can know that things are under control. ****

You criticized North, but offered no assessment of your own.

**** I cannot cover the universe, and if I did attempt to, I would not waste it criticizing a slanderous lightweight like Gary North. *****

Another thing. How long will the '45' days of coal last, if these plants are islands in the grid?

**** At least 45 days! Note that long term interruptions of railroads will be detected and subject to public concern long before it can cause a power grid problem. *****

And what about natural gas plants?

**** They can operate with the pumps on and valves open. They are also making significant efforts, but that is not something I deal with first hand. It is the nature of things that you often need another expert to address a new subject. ****

Then there are municipally owned utilities.... they don't have the resources to tackle this thing. I have spoken to those in this area and they comfirm this.

**** And how much power do they generate if they do not have these resources? You can answer for yourself whether they are an important factor. **** It's true that Dr. North has an agenda and he leans toward apocalypse. But you have not addressed the real concerns that y2k presents... transportation, telecoms, hospitals, water and sewer providers, businesses small and large, GOVERNMENT at ALL levels, foreign exchanges, and on and on... **** True, I did not cover the universe, but you still got much more than you paid for.

Telecom for POTS (plain old telephone service) is in very good shape, though voice mail may have some problems. (I for one won't miss it ). ****

Here it is, Joe. IT IS A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM. My employer distributes food to all 50 states. There are 5 national warehouse centers, all with different massive systems. None have begun the work, beyond assessment. Last year we were a 16 billion dollar company. **** I'd suggest that you update your resume, if it is really that bad. There is the possibility of a competent company taking over your warehouse centers. Some banks buy up hundreds of other banks every years (e.g. BancOne of Columbus, OH). An analogous solution is the control the warehouses under a new, uniform system. Also, dropping less important features can get a system operational in less time. ****

I'm gettin' ready, Joe. Power or not, trouble is a comin'. Bertin Opus **** Note that I was especially upset with Gary North claiming that I argued for "no problem." There will be problems, and I think Gary is barking up the wrong tree. ****

-- Bertin Opus (, September 17, 1998.

Buddy, just making the point that NO ONE knows what is going to happen with electricity or anything else. To me, that says be prepared for all possibilities.

-- Gayla Dunbar (, September 17, 1998.

when i downloaded the report all i got was un-readable gobbledygook. has anyone else had this problem. i would really like to read this as i am doing the research for my group of family and friends. any help would be appreciated.

-- aressejay (, September 17, 1998.

Not to be a Pollyanna, but no one knows what is going to happen tommorrow or even five minutes from now. So to say that no one knows what is going to happen in the Year 2000, well, we already knew that. Sounds like they thought through some contigencies and are doing assessment and communicating to smaller companies.

-- Amy Leone (, September 18, 1998.


You need Acrobat Reader to read the report. You can download it free at

-- Buddy Y. (, September 18, 1998.

Buddy and Amy, I'm certainly no Pollyanna, either, yet it may surprise you to know that I don't expect an electical "collapse." I believe we will have rolling blackouts for a few weeks. Some small areas may have NO power. If you have read my other posts, you know that I started "preparing" before I even knew about Y2K. Why? Look at Asia and Russia. They still have power, too, but look at their economies. I believe Y2K will only be a part of the "hard times" coming. When the stock market crashed in 1929, that was only the beginning. The worst of the depression was not until 1932-1933. I worry about people who wake up on Jan. 1st, 2000, and still have power, so they assume everything will be fine. It will take a while for all of the problems resulting from Y2K to be felt. (Bankruptcies, unemployment, shortages, etc.) But even without Y2K, I believe our economy is going "downhill." I believe with all of my heart that we in America are going to learn to live with much less. That's why I have said before: simplify your lifestyle, get out of as much debt now as you can, PREPARE for all possibilities. If the value of our dollar plummets, one safe place for your money is in food and everyday supplies. Russia just proved that to us.

-- Gayla Dunbar (, September 18, 1998.

I have just quickly read the entire report. I am disappointed in the quality of the report's conclusions and in the amount of included supportive information for those conclusions.

In two or three places, the reports states that because the, for instance, SCADA equipment surveyed is often highly customized by the individual power generation or distribution facility, there is a reduced chance of a "common failure mode." While this is true on its face, it somewhat misrepresents how the overall Y2K-related risk should be assessed. When most/many of these devices have been highly customized, there is an increased importance for more detailed assessment, in order to determine the nature and level of Y2K risk for those devices. In other words, the assessment phase covering these devices is likely to be more involved and require more detailed examination of the device's software, and therefore to take more time to complete. (The assessment of these devices is probably not complete for the majority of the facilities.) Lack of a "common failure mode" is not significant IF there is a high likelihood of ANY KIND OF FAILURE among those devices. THAT is what must be assessed for that category of devices.

In several places in the report there are graphs that chart NERC's *estimate* of when all facilities of a given kind (generation, distribution, etc.) will complete one of the Y2K project phases (that is, inventory, assessment, remediation, and testing), with "Y2K readiness" being the end result. Most of these charts show about 80% of the facilities completing a given phase by a particular month, with the remaining 20% or so requiring many more months to reach completion of that project phase. But the report's text nevers gives a RATIONALE for why the graph shows this data for the "laggard" organizations. That is, on what grounds does the NERC estimate that the lagging 20% or so of facilities will require 6 to 8 more months than all other facilities? If true, what is the effect on the overall validity on the NERC report's conclusions?

The report does not mention whether or to what degree availability of manpower (internally or from outsourced companies) to perform inventorying/assessment/remediation/testing activities is a RISK FACTOR in getting the facilities to Y2K readiness.

The report does not mention anything about whether the availability of the new or replacement parts from device vendors is a RISK FACTOR for bringing all the equipment to Y2K readiness.

-- ParkTwain (, September 18, 1998.


I agree with you in this area. Hypothetically, y2k could be completely solved, but the preceding recession we are beginning to experience combined with the unknowns of y2k could lead us to a much more severe "economic downturn" late in 1999 and into 2000. Taking y2k for granted, I do not think the next 5 years will be a very pretty economic picture. We have had almost 10 years of positives which only means that we will have a considerable amount of negatives to balance the scale.

-- bhayes (, September 18, 1998.

Winter is approahing and I live way up north. One year ago I would have had enough food in the house for two days, no oil lamps, no alternative heat, etc. I then discovered y2k. (In 1976 I struggled for 10 days without power during an ice storm in January and I still never bothered to prepare for emergencies.) I'm glad I have finally had some sense scared into me.

-- Dave (, September 18, 1998.

I thought the Chicago Tribune's analysis of the report was interesting:,1575,SAV-9809180145,00.html

-- Gayla Dunbar (, September 19, 1998.


Interesting is right.

"...if even one utility wired to the grid of electric power lines across the United States fails to shoo the Y2K bug from its computers, causing a domino effect that would darken the nation..."

***Does anyone seriously believe that ONE utility could cause this? Seems to me most people concerned with cascading blackouts are saying this might happen if a large enough percentage of utilities went off line.***

"...fully 25 percent of the 200 bulk-power producers refused to cooperate with the study..."

***It was 23 percent - why not say that?***

"Two grids, separated by the Rocky Mountains, link every power company, every region."

***The report clearly states the number of grids is three.***

Maybe I'm being trivial, but beyond these inaccuracies, the tone of the article seems to be one of disbelief, even a bit mocking of those who are preparing. Yet, why would Household International be concerned, unless there is a real potential for blackouts?

Interesting indeed.

-- Mike (, September 19, 1998.

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