US federal authorities warned this week that utilities remained in the dark about the Year 2000 problem, as UK regulators admitted they have minimal power to ensure compliance amongst the power providers.
The US government's federal regulator for energy providers cautioned that electricity and fuel companies do not know the extent of their exposure to the millennium bug.
Kathleen Hirning, chief information officer with the federal energy regulatory commission (FERC), told a House Science Subcommittee that without testing it is impossible to determine the impact of some embedded systems malfunctioning and the ensuing ripple effect across a portion of the grid.
UK regulators for the electricity and gas industries have no better idea about the progress of Year 2000 work here - and few powers to do anything about it.
A spokesperson for the electricity regulator (Offer) admitted that the millennium issue does not come under the remit of the 1989 Electricity Act - the legislation that brought the regulators into existence.
"It was passed before the millennium bug was thought about," he said.
According to Offer, statutory licence obligations demanding continued electricity supply provide the only check on companies. The spokesperson admitted that any action could only be "retrospective".
"The commercial nature of the companies means they want to solve any problem," he said and added that towards the end of 1997, Offer contacted the companies, "to find out the steps they propose to take. We take a keen interest in those preparations".
The gas regulator, Ofgas, has similar problems.
"We are keeping in touch with the companies," said a spokesperson. "Under the licence conditions, each gas supplier must supply gas. If there's a possibility they contravene these conditions it may be possible to take action. However that's a long way off," he said.
The spokesperson admitted there was no date for making decisions and Ofgas did not know about issues of and progress on testing.
In the US the FERC blames inadequate compilation of information for the lack of awareness and plans an outreach programme to "encourage regulated companies to take responsible action to ensure their energy system will continue to function on 1 January and beyond."
Hirning expressed concern that FERC, like UK regulators, has no authority over regional companies internal operations.
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