Originally created 11/17/99

Utilities pass Y2K readiness



ATLANTA - Most Georgia utility customers should expect no interruptions in natural gas, telephone or electric service as a result of the Y2K computer problem, but those dependent on nine small suppliers face some risks, according to a government audit released Tuesday.

Staff from the Georgia Public Service Commission and their consultants have inspected the readiness and contingency plans of 15 utilities across the state, including all of the large ones that serve most Georgians.

"The staff assessment is positive to very positive in their ability to get through the year 2000 and beyond," said Ken Ellison, director of the inspection tour.

But he admitted to commissioners during their Tuesday meeting that the most gloomy predictions offered in the news media could have some validity.

"It's really hard to say how all this year 2000 will play out because of the complexities of it all," Mr. Ellison said.

The 10-page staff report did identify nine utilities that inspectors are "concerned about," roughly 3 percent of all utilities operating in the state, and another 43 utilities, or 12 percent, that may require watching.

Part of that concern revolves around the safety of gas and electricity, though Mr. Ellison conceded that most of the smaller gas operations are controlled manually rather than by computer.

That's the case in the city of Waynesboro gas system, near Augusta, which was cited as an operation to watch but not one of the critical risks.

"Fortunately, the city of Waynesboro is not so sophisticated that we're going to have a lot of Y2K problems," said Jerry Carlson, city administrator. He added that city employees are capable of performing any functions conducted by computers.

The PSC has authority to fine utilities that aren't prepared for the Jan. 1 programming glitch, but officials say they will still focus on cooperation rather than coercion. That will involve calling on other utilities that are ready to lend a hand.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.