Sunday, February 14, 1999

Lights out? Y2K appears safe

USA Today

        Having the lights go out seems to be one of the greatest Y2K fears, judging from the sales of generators and solar collectors. But according to Gene Gorzelnik of the North American Electric Reliability Council, it's unlikely.

        Typical demand on the electric grid during New Year's is between 40 percent and 50 percent of peak summer demand, with an extreme high of 75 percent if the weather is unseasonably cold.

        So come Jan. 1, the system will already have at least 25 percent of play in it, he said.

        In addition, the three electricity grids in the continental United States maintain reserve power margins of at least 15 percent, and Mr. Gorzelnik said they're likely to raise that figure because of year 2000 concerns.

        The nation also is at an advantage because it's several hours away from the International Date Line.

        “We'll be able to watch what is happening in other countries,” he said. “If there are problems, we'll be able to get enough information to identify and correct them before they get to us.”

        Another big concern is what will happen to computer chips embedded in everyday products and appliances such as cars, VCRs and bank machines.

        But research by the Gartner Group, an analyst firm in Stamford, Conn., found only one out of 100,000 freestanding microcontroller chips were likely to fail.

        And of those that do, almost all are used in manufacturing and chemical processing.

        “And only the customizable, programmable ones are at risk, which is about 35 percent of them,” said Lou Marcoccio, a Y2K expert at Gartner.

        Unless you're running a plastics manufacturing plant in your basement, it's unlikely such a failure will affect your home.

        Another point often left out in the more pessimistic Y2K scenarios is not everything will hit at midnight Dec. 31.

        “The perception is that the only risk period is within a few days of the New Year,” Mr. Marcoccio said.

        The Gartner Group predicts 25 percent of problems will happen this year, 55 percent next year and 15 percent in 2001 — and only 8 percent of the failures traced to year 2000 issues will occur in that two-week period.

        It's much easier to deal with problems spread out over time, Mr. Marcoccio said.

        Most will be quickly dealt with, with only about 10 percent taking longer than three days to fix, according to Gartner research.

        As for the money supply, banks are the most heavily regulated industry in the country, said John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion in Washington, D.C. They get ratings of 97 percent to 98 percent compliance in every survey he's seen.

        “I joke with bankers that it's a testimony to the joys of federal regulation,” Mr. Koskinen said.

        The Federal Reserve is prepared to put $50 billion more into circulation “just in case people want a couple of dollars. We can print more bills faster than they can take them out.”


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- Lights out? Y2K appears safe