It’s already Y2K for SPPC | NevadaAppeal.com

It’s already Y2K for SPPC

Rex Bovee

Y2K has struck at Sierra Pacific Power Company and a company spokesman says it was without disaster and according to plan.

At the end of June, all of the utility’s embedded computer systems that help provide electric, natural gas and water service in Northern Nevada were rolled ahead a year to mid-2000 and left there.

The operations part of the utility company has been running a year ahead ever since, kind of like Daylight Savings Time on a much larger scale.

“This is not new. Others have done it and it has been very successful,” company spokesman Bob Sagan said Wednesday. “We’re very confident that we won’t have any problems at New Year’s.”

The computers that were rolled ahead are called embedded systems, which perform control, protection and monitoring tasks for machinery, processes, equipment and communications.

The concern was whether those systems will recognize the date change at the end of the year as rolling over correctly to the year 2000 or incorrectly to 1900. Many older computers only used two digits to track years and could not handle the change to the next century. That shortcoming has been labeled the Year 2000 bug or Y2K bug.

Despite the early changeover of some systems, customers will not be receiving utility bills dated a year ahead. Sagan said computers related to billing are not part of the utility’s control systems and were not rolled ahead a year.

But they also have been updated for year 2000 compliance and tested, Sagan said.

“We’ve successfully completed a series of Y2K tests for all our systems,” he said. “The latest was on Sept. 9, which was 9-9-99, and we had only a couple minor glitches.”

Sierra Pacific has spent about $5 million addressing Year 2000 concerns since 1996, when a Y2K team was formed, he said. The expenditures came from the utility’s normal operation and maintenance budgets and did not increase customer’s utility rates, he said.

Some extra workers will be on duty New Year’s Eve in case there are problems, Sagan said, because that is the prudent thing to do rather than in expectation of problems.

He also said the utility always has to be ready to respond to outages caused by events ranging from major storms to drunken drivers striking power poles. Should something like that happen at the end of the year, the company will deal with it as usual, though customers may perceive it as a Y2K problem.

The company’s website, http://www.sierrapacific.com, has an area devoted to Y2K readiness. The frequently-asked-questions page points out that SPPC and all utilities are dependent on other companies and systems in the process that ultimately delivers services to homes and businesses.

The company is working with other power companies in the region to develop contingency plans in case another utility on the electrical power grid fails. Federal and state regulators have been monitoring utilities’ preparations for the end of the year and the Western Systems Coordinating Council is coordinating the activities of the utilities on the electric grid for the western United States.