Senator: Y2K power outage looms

An informal survey of 10 large utilities found that only two had completed a full assessment of the potential problems that might occur when their computers reach the year 2000, Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, chairman of the Special Senate Year 2000 Technology Problem Committee said Friday.

The survey also showed none of the utilities have gotten assurances from their suppliers and vendors that they had addressed the Y2K problem.

"I am genuinely concerned about the prospects of power shortages as a consequence of the millennial date change," Bennett said. He added the private sector is just beginning to realize the related year 2000 problems of faulty embedded computer chips and the industry's reliance on other entities that may not be prepared.

Bennett released the survey at the committee's first hearing while committee members laid out their future agenda.

Deputy Energy Secretary Elizabeth Moler told the panel that the government must play a facilitating role in helping the private sector address its year 2000 problem, as it has been doing with an energy working group that includes DOE, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the industry's North American Electric Reliability Council.

"Let me emphasize thatthe federal government cannot solve this problem," she said. "It is up to the industry itself to do so."

FERC Chairman James Hoecker said the industry has yet to determine the impact of the year 2000 problem, in which computers read the last two digits of the year as 1900.

"Compilation of this information has been inadequate. Larger utilities and some industry associations have promoted awareness of year 2000 issues," Hoecker said. "The state of awareness and planning of small utilities and cooperatives is less certain."

Committee ranking member Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., urged both the government and industry to give the panel as much information as possible. "You need to put us on notice up here so we can be doing smart things legislatively," Dodd said.

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