A millennium date roll-over test conducted by Trans-power at the Benmore hydro facility showed non-compliance with the year 2000 and leap year 2000 malfunctions.
The Benmore SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system crashed, and the hot standby system failed to take over. Operator workstations lost communication with the SCADA master station, causing dynamic data in one section to freeze and loss of control of the HVDC (high voltage direct current) system through operator workstations.
In a concurrent leap year 2000 test, engineering workstations malfunctioned on February 29, 2000.
However, the good news was that energy transfer through the HVDC link was not disturbed.
"The worrying thing is that we ran more tests last week and the system didn't fail," says Transpower project millennium director Robert Scott.
Benmore links through the Cook Strait cable to Haywards in the North Island.
Scott says the Benmore systems are being replaced, and the replacements will be monitored so that if there is a risk of the new system not being ready in time, the existing system can be upgraded to cope.
Transpower provides the link between the generators and the electricity supply authorities. As such, it is at the crux of the country's electricity infrastructure, and has taken the initiative to drive year 2000 compliance for the industry by developing informal forums and industry conferences.
Project millennium's objectives — there is an $8 million budget — include risks to all critical systems to be addressed by December 31, 1998, and risks to all other systems and business areas to be addressed by July 31, 1999.
Contingency plans are also being prepared to address unresolved and unidentified risks.
The project has its own external quality assurance audit.
Scott says high-level business risk assessment has been carried out with the assistance of the Boston Consulting Group to prioritise business risks. Six systems have been targeted for the closest attention.
Embedded microprocessors are an important part of the compliance project.
A detailed survey of some 30,000 at-risk components in 25 systems is being carried out to establish potential for failure and failure date. All these are recorded in a single database.
"We're replacing some embedded chips where we don't know the risk," Scott says. "There's less effort involved in that than in testing."
Application software for main systems is being replaced.
Scott says that where anything is designated mission-critical, it is being tested irrespective of vendor guarantee on year 2000 compliance.
He says in a few instances non-compliance has been discovered even where the vendor has said there is -compliance.
Retaining technical staff has been a major issue because there is competition on the international market for qualified people.
"With year 2000, we've tied consultants to performance bonuses," he says.
Transpower is setting up an Internet site that will not only give some information to the public, but will allow industry members to discuss and share information securely.
One of the issues come the millennium may be communications. "We are looking at satellite phones but when we asked if they were year 2000-compliant, the vendor replied, 'No one has asked us that before'."