GULFPORT — Mississippi Power Company (MPC) is part of an aggressive campaign by its parent company, Southern Company, to assure that power generation and delivery aren’t impacted by the Year 2000 (Y2K) computer bug. MPC is also building two new electric generating units at Daniel Electric Generating Plant in Escatawpa to meet the increasing power demands of the future.
KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON
“Our priority for the year 2000 and beyond, as it is everyday, is to keep the lights on for our customers,” said Kurt Brautigam, manager of external communications for MPC. “We have been working in conjunction with the Southern Company since 1996 to prepare ourselves for this challenge. We feel like we understand and will be ready for all ramifications of the Y2K problem. We’ve done extensive testing and mitigation on all of our systems. We have as our goal June of this year to be ready in all of those areas.”
The Y2K computer bug refers to computer systems that use only two digits to represent the year portion of dates. Computers assumed that all years began with “19”. If these date functions are not corrected before the year 2000 arrives, affected software systems and devices containing computer chips or clocks could automatically roll back to 1900 instead of moving forward to 2000. While some affected software and devices will function without incident, others may experience erroneous results or the interruption of a process.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Brautigam said MPC has been getting a lot of Y2K questions from both residential and industrial customers.
“We want them to know that we feel very confident that we’ll be able to provide our customers with the same safe, reliable service that they have today,” Brautigam said. “If service interruptions do occur, we believe they will be isolated and short in duration similar to a storm. We believe that because of our extensive preparations and testing, we can say that with confidence. We do have contingency plans to have people on duty that night to be prepared for any potential problems.”
Brautigam pointed out that the U.S. will have advance indication of what to expect because the millennium will start first in Japan and Europe. Mississippi will also be able to first see how it affects the East Coast because midnight will strike a hour earlier there.
Brautigam said it is important for customers to realize that the power company is well prepared for Y2K, including working with vendors to assure compliance.
“It is good to get the word out now,” he said. “Hearing the stories of how businesses are prepared for Y2K will help alleviate a lot of the anxiety and misperceptions.”
Specific questions about Y2K compliance at Mississippi Power and other Southern Company subsidiaries can be obtained by sending an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone toll-free, at 1-877-888-2006; or by mail to Southern Company, Millennium Project Office, Bin 970, 270 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30303. More information on Y2K is available at the web site: www.southernco.com.
Southern Company, the largest producer of electricity in the U.S., has 275 generating units located at 67 plant sites across its service territory in the Southeast. Of these units, six are nuclear powered, 113 are hydroelectric and the remainder are fossil fueled (coal, gas and oil). Not all Southern Company generating units have digital control systems, the primary type of computerized power plant system that could potentially be affected by the Year 2000 challenge. Several generating units are controlled by other types of systems, which will not be affected by the new millennium.
Southern Company and its subsidiaries are following a systematic process to assess year 2000 readiness of critical computer-based processes, equipment and devices at each of their power plants, including the nuclear facilities.
The company is spending about $91 million on Y2K readiness. The work is being completed as part of ongoing operations and maintenance expenses, and rate increases are not anticipated to cover these costs.
Southern Company is also working with other utilities to minimize service interruptions that may result from interconnections on the national power grid. The Department of Energy (DOE) assigned the responsibility of assessing the reliability of the national grid to the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC).
Southern Company is supplying information to and cooperating with NERC’s assessment of the health and reliability of the nation’s electric systems.
Mississippi Power will hold formal groundbreaking ceremonies May 10 for two new gas-powered electrical generating plants at Plant Daniel. Brautigam said the $415-million project is needed to meet expected increasing demands for electricity in the MPC service area.
Ground was broken on the project in March. At the height of construction, about 700 workers will be employed. Permanent employment of 31 is expected when the units come on line in 2001.
The two new units, which are called “combined cycle” units, will be capable of generating about 1,064 megawatts of electricity. Combined cycle technology allows for the waste heat of a combustion turbine generating unit to be used to produce additional electricity, which greatly improves efficiency. The units will be fueled by natural gas, and will be fitted with Selective Catalytic Reduction equipment to minimize air emissions.
The new units will double the output of Plant Daniel’s current capacity. MPC owns about 2,000 megawatts of generation capacity. System peak records were set six times in 1998, culminating in an all-time peak demand of 2,339 megawatts this past July.