Electric Contact Project

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The object of this "electricity project" is for individuals such as ourselves to:

The bigger object is to make that forum as much of a centralized focal point for the power industry as possible. The IT people who are using it are finding it a great resource.

As it relates things we can do to help out in this y2k mess, this is something all of us can do, whether we're technical people or not. We all have a huge stake in the power system, and if enough of us do this, it will have an impact.

How to get it done is another question. It can be as simple as one phone call to your power company, or it could get trickier than that.

In the county I live in, there are four power companies supplying power. I called them all last November (good reception at each), went to a meeting where I met the general manager and board of directors of the company that supplies my house. Decent people. Learned a lot.

That meeting put me in phone contact with the head Y2K person at the "parent" company in charge of the power plant supplying me and 750,000 other customers. Had a good talk. Got his email address. Started communicating with him. Didn't ask a lot of questions or get demanding (he was working on y2k long before I heard about it). Just tried to feed him useful things I'd get from euy2k, CPSR working group (Harlan, mainly), Roleigh Martin, the occasional relevant article, etc. Tried not to be pest, but stayed in touch.

I now have an excellent relationship with the guy. 2 weeks ago he sent a note saying he had an extensive database of all his counterparts in the Midwest, but no email addresses. Asked me to help round them up (so, among other things, we could direct them to Rick's "Player's Only" forum). I set up an easy, simple system on the web, and he mailed out a letter that pointed the people in his databse to it. The system is working, the list is growing.

The point is it seems by staying in casual, helpful as possible touch, he got to know me, knew I wasn't a nutcase, or pain in the neck customer, saw I "understood" y2k, and now trusts me enough to be on the receiving end of an email list of Midwestern power company y2k people. Trusts that I won't abuse it.

Will it help? Who knows? But as he said in a note the other day, "If we aren't able to keep the lights on, it won't be because we didn't try."

If you can get your power company's y2k person's email address, here's Rick Cowles' message on the forum open discussion forum and his email address. You can copy and paste this directly into your email program from here and send it along to them...

Rick Cowles is an electric utilities veteran. He is currently the Director of Digital Equipment Corporation's Utilities Year 2000 division. He has also created an excellent (non-commercial/non-affiliated with DEC) web site you ought to be aware of, if you're not already. Its URL is http://www.euy2k.com.

He has also created a forum you may be interested in. Power industry IT people from all over the world are participating, sharing information. The following is a note Rick wrote concerning it:

"At the request of several folks in the electric industry, I've set up a separate password protected forum for electric industry reps who wish to exchange information in a more 'closed' environment. Access to the "Players Only" forum is limited to legitimate electric utility employees.

"Industry reps wishing to utilize the "Players Only" forum should contact me via email to request access to this discussion group, and I'll provide details at that time."

Rick Cowles

Be sure to let us all know what happens, or what your experience with your power campany has been by posting an answer in this thread.


-- Bill (billdale@lakesnet.net), June 05, 1998


Hi Bill,

Well, I have contacted my electric company(Commonwealth Edison) here in Chicago twice to get detailed information regarding their y2k status. The first response was a generic "everything is going according to plan" type reassurance. After further prodding I received a better response which although didn't contain any detailed info, was less generic. The y2k project manager at ComEd actually referred me to Rick Cowles site, but I will check to see if he is participating in the closed forum. If you want I can post the two responses I received from ComEd for reference purposes. Let me know.


-- Tom Scully (2scully@concentric.net), June 05, 1998.

Here's my initial email to ComEd's public relation's person. The following email was mostly copied from another forum from someone much more knowledgeable who I think asked the right questions. Just substitute your electric company in the right spots.

Dear Mr. Hernandez,

As a customer of CommonWealth Edison I am very concerned about the upcoming Year 2000 (century rollover) computer problem and possible effects on customer records and accounts and, more importantly, on continuous electric service. I would like to know what steps your company is undertaking to assure me that your computer software and hardware is Year 2000 compliant, that customer-related information will not be at risk and that "embedded chips" will not jeopardize electric service on or about January 1, 2000.

This "embedded chip" problem looks very serious and I would like answers to the following kinds of questions:

 Does ComEd have an inventory of all the embedded microprocessors in all the equipment used to generate and distribute electric energy?

 Assuming that a small fraction of these chips will be Year 2000 sensitive, does ComEd know which ones won't function properly on or about January 1, 2000?

 Are the replacement parts on order?

 Are the orders approved?

 Have vendors been found who can deliver on time?

 Have the orders been placed with firm ship dates?

 Is there a schedule for testing the replacement parts?

 Is there a schedule for installing the replacement parts in the field?

One Year 2000 sensitive embedded microprocessor in one sensing circuit on one of your major generators, whose manufacturer is no longer in business, could shut down your system for a long time. It will be just as cold on January 1, 2000 as it was 200 years ago.

I am simply a concerned human, who is worried about the possible impacts. If you can't help me with this issue, then please direct this message to your technical department or someone who has a working knowledge of this problem. Perhaps to ComEd's y2k task force. I would hope there is some sort of team working on this problem.

Please get back to me with any information.


Tom Scully

Responses to follow.......

-- Tom Scully (2scully@concentric.net), June 05, 1998.

Response one:


Dear Mr. Scully:

Thank you for your recent request for information about ComEd's Year 2000 compliance program. We can certainly appreciate your concerns, both financial and otherwise, and assure you that there is a comprehensive year 2000 compliance strategy in place at ComEd. Implementation of the strategy is well under way and our goal is to achieve Year 2000 compliance by year-end 1998. ComEd's Nuclear organization is scheduled for completion in the 3rd quarter of 1999 in accordance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines.

The ComEd Year 2000 program includes the components required to deliver reliable electric service to our customers. It encompasses the computer systems which deliver core business functions such as our customer information system, financial systems, procurement and supply, personnel, as well as the components of metering, transmission, distribution and generation support. This also includes the embedded systems, instrumentation and control systems used in our facilities and plants.

Many existing systems are being replaced with new systems and technology which are year 2000 compliant. Where necessary, existing systems are being renovated to correctly process dates from both this century and the next. A rigorous testing program is an integral part of the conversion process for each application. We are also aggressively working with third party suppliers and vendors to help ensure that the services and products they provide ComEd are year 2000 compliant.

ComEd strives to provide its customers with products and services that effectively assist them in meeting all of their energy needs. We believe that our Year 2000 compliance program will allow us to continue meeting our customers' energy requirements into the next millennium and will contribute to ComEd's position as the future energy supplier of choice.


David R. Doemland ComEd Year 2000 Project Manager

************************** After further prodding for more detailed information I received Response 2:

************************** Mr. Scully,

I can certainly appreciate your concerns regarding the year 2000 issue. All the questions you raised in both of your messages are right on target.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with detailed information about ComEd's internal operations which is the type of information I would have to release if I were to answer your questions sufficiently. However, I can say that virtually all of the issues about which you are concerned are critical steps in ComEd's project plans. These activities include inventory, analysis, renovation and testing of all components especially embedded systems. Our project plans call for the completion of our efforts prior to any potential impact to our systems.

There are several web sites you can visit if you are still interested in additional information about the year 2000 issue and how businesses, on a global scale, are addressing it. Several sites I would recommend are: www.euy2k.com., www.year2000.com and www.y2k.com.


David R. Doemland ComEd Year 2000 Project Manager


Any comments welcome. It was good to know that my electric company was at least dealing with the situation, but to what extant is hard to gather from those reponses. It is also encouraging that Mr. Doemland referred me to Rick Cowles site, obviously he's been there. I am aware that publically traded companies must disclose the status of their y2k efforts. I will try this route next to get more specific information from them. Stay tuned, and I highly recommend concerned people take steps to gain information as to their electric company's y2k remediation status so that personal and community contingency planning can get underway. Be aware, spread the awareness.

-- Tom Scully (2scully@concentric.net), June 05, 1998.

I've used a slightly different tact when I contacted our power provider, the Ontario Hydro. I first sent an email telling them how I've been involved in an international public awareness campaign, politely requesting data on their Y2K remediation progress. I didn't ask a lot of questions. Just asked the Y2K project manager what percentage of progress they've made and have they started to address the horrendous problems of finding and replacing embedded chip systems?

Sometime later, I recieved an email from the Y2K project manager (internally copied to a few others in the organization) which assured me with the standard PR lines that they have been working on the Year 2000 Problem and as proof, he listed all the intranet site headings. I couldn't enter the sites for a look-see but they were elaborate and quite timely.

Timely, you may wonder? Well, yes. They started planning their organizational awareness seminars in 1996, assessments for the first portion of 1997 and remediation in earnest since then. My questions never got answered.

I immediately contacted the Premier of Ontario and a few Federal members of Parliament and asked them point blank if they are working on any contingency plans if Ontario Hydro doesn't make the deadline for Y2K compliance?

I knew that public utilities were scheduled to report to the Federal Y2K Committee in a few days coming so I gave the "heads-up" to various members letting them know that the Ontario Hydro was being unduly secretive and probably behind schedule.

The Ontario had to report that after 36 months of work (a lot of time used in lethargic preparations) they had remediated, but not tested, 40% of their systems and couldn't guarantee the lights wouldn't go out when the clock turns over to Year 2000. Cost to date, $250 million.

Needless to say, Ontario Hydro now has a 500 man technical team working on the Problem. Interesting to note, they along with Bell Canada are having difficulties acquiring replacement components from suppliers.

My philosophy has been to always go to the top if you can. Get the people in charge, concerned and motivated to get the tough questions answered. We may be disappointed with what we find out but at least we know where we stand.

I've since sent Harlan Smith's "Synergistic Mitigation And Contingency Preparedness" to that Y2K project manager along with one to the Premier of Ontario and every Canadian member of Parliament. I'd like them to being reading the same Plan when the time for serious contingency planning comes front and center.

Note: Ontario Hydro reports they started 36 months ago even though their intranet web site's earliest date is 1996.

Will the power grid go down in Ontario come Jan.1.2000? I won't know. I'll be on vacation somewhere warm.

Gary Allan Halonen

-- Gary Alan Halonen (njarc@ica.net), June 05, 1998.

A Look Inside...

In early June, 1998, Edward, from Medford, Oregon, asked the 2000@efn.com mailing list for feedback on the viability of a "Time-synchronization" strategy for power plants he had read about at the Cassandra Project web site. No feedback came, so I sent the pertinent parts of the article off to the y2k person at power company mentioned above. Their reply arrived the next day. As you'll notice, the first sentence addresses the time-sync question, and the rest "discloses" some fairly interesting information as to where this power company (one power plant, approximately 750,000 customers) is at in their y2k process. He also talks about how the company responded to a recent big power outage problem caused by some heavy duty storms that tripped a large part of the system. A important sub-point here is I doubt this person would've told me these things if the "relationship" mentioned above didn't exist. Again. I would encourage anyone interested in the electric situation in their local area to contact their local y2k person and attempt to establish a friendly, helpful as possible communication channel. Even though this person is under the same "legal restraints" as any other I.T. person at any other large company, I have no doubt they will (in time, and according to their best estimate) let me know how seriously my neighbors and I will or won't need to prepare for a power problem.

For my community, this person is the best possible source of that information. There is no one who knows more about the potential impact of y2k on my community's electricity than this person. Gary North (for instance, and to name just one person among many), may speculate and point out again and again how vulnerable we all are, so on and so forth, but neither he nor most other people are actually working on the systems. This person is. And while they aren't saying there will not be problems, he is offering some "specific evidence" to support the cautious optimism his message conveys (without conveying it). Notice the reference to the tests on specific systems, and the news about the operating system so key to their SCADA system. I don't know if that "qualifies" for the specific evidence people who are always implying the grids going to crash and we're all going to die are demanding, but it does seem like a start at least...

Essentially, this person is saying (without saying), they are reasonably confident that they'll have their basic bases covered in time, that they have some highly dedicated, y2k aware people working hard at every level who are able to respond to trouble, and that the next phase of things is to contend with the power grid aspects of things. They aren't saying (without saying) that "everything's going to be okay, don't worry, be happy." They aren't putting out fake optimism. But they are saying we're working hard, we're getting there, it looks like we might make it, and if there are problems we've got some great people who'll do whatever they can to get things back on line...

This person participates in the "Player's Only" password protected forum connected with Rick Cowles' web site. They say it's helping them do their job. It would probably help your power company's y2k person do their job too. You ought to make sure they're aware of it...

Here's what they had to say...

I've seen many articles talking about different date roll-back scenarios as a "finger in the dike" approach to Y2K. In my personal opinion, it's a dangerous band-aide.

I just read the test results from the test of our new Honeywell 3000 control system during our planned outage re-start, and the roll-over worked without a hitch.

We've got orders in to replace a couple of systems that were older anyway and highly suspect of not being compliant, plus will give us better control of other processes within the plant.

Last weekend's tornado/storms took out eleven of my distribution unit's 17 substations. One of my buddy engineers who used to work for on of the distribution units was knocking on the window of their HQ at midnight to be let in. By the next morning, all but one substation was back on and they had figured out a way to back-feed almost everybody but those who were on distribution lines that took a direct hit or were down.

I'm not saying don't worry, but we have a great bunch of people working on this, that have a high level of awareness and concern, and are very capable.

The other good news is that an independent firm is coming out with a Y2K certification on the SUN Solaris operating system (with patches), which our SCADA system runs on.

Big hearing on the 12th to discuss nation-wide reliability. I've got some advanced stuff but I haven't read it yet.

"Still keeping the faith...but we'll back it up with hard work!"

(Name/Co. withheld to protect those cooperating and communicating as best they can)

-- Bill (billdale@lakesnet.net), June 10, 1998.

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