NM Power failure triggers high-tech damage

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March 20, 2000 Power failure triggers some high-tech damage By Sue Vorenberg Tribune reporter

This weekend's power failure caused a fire and damaged equipment and products at some of New Mexico's high-tech companies. All of the companies are still assessing their damage and trying to determine the causes. Philips Semiconductor had a fire in its manufacturing facilities and has smoke and water damage. "We experienced a fire in one of our diffusion bays," said spokeswoman Karen Scott. "There were no injuries, thankfully. The exact cause of the fire is under investigation." Honeywell Inc. also had damage in its avionics equipment-testing chambers, which run 24 hours a day. They are assessing the extent of the damage and expect to know details later this week. "We had information-technology and facilities people here as soon as the lights flickered," said spokeswoman Linn Tytler. "It's been an adventure." Sumitomo Sitix Silicon Inc. and Ethicon Endosurgery said they were assessing possible damage and had no comment yet. Intel Corp. and CTS Corp. could not be reached for comment. PNM Spokesman Don Brown said the company is getting spotty damage claims, but had no specific information from high-tech companies yet.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 20, 2000


Tuesday, March 21, 2000 Outage Could Cost Intel Millions

By Aaron Baca Journal Staff Writer The statewide power failure on Saturday knocked Intel off line, may have caused a fire at Philips Semiconductor and even shut down Honeywell's AlliedSignal generator plant, which makes its own electricity.

The blackout at Intel may end up costing millions of dollars, but it would be insignificant to the company's overall billion-dollar operations, according to Dataquest, a Silicon Valley company that analyzes the computer industry. "The impact to a company that does $25 billion-plus revenue a year would be very small," Intel analyst George Iwanyc said. Public Service Company of New Mexico said Monday it might not be liable for damages to computers or other equipment of customers because of the weekend power failure. Don Brown, a utility spokesman, said the company generally does not reimburse individual customers or companies for property damage when the utility is not at fault, such as with weather-related power outages.

"If the company is clearly at fault in some way, the company has (paid) and will pay claims," Brown said. He also said the utility generally doesn't reimburse businesses for losses if they have to close because of a power failure.

Intel, with three computer chip manufacturing lines in Rio Rancho, was still trying to bring its factory up to full speed late Monday. Officials at Philips in Albuquerque were trying to determine how much damage was caused by a fire there on Saturday that will keep one production line out of commission for some time. Philips makes semiconductor components for a variety of electronic equipment, including cell phones and other communications devices. "Clearly there could be a financial impact (because of the power failure)," said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman at the company's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters. "We won't know for quite a while, though ... it could be trivial to significant."

Intel, the world's largest computer chip maker, produces nearly everything in the company's arsenal at the Rio Rancho plant and does it 24 hours a day all year long, except for scheduled maintenance. Saturday's power failure -- caused when a fire burned near PNM transmission lines outside of Farmington -- cut electricity to the plant for more than two hours. Chip factories, however, cannot simply restart when a production line is stopped. They must ramp up in phases to ensure equipment is not damaged.

And as of Monday afternoon, the Rio Rancho plant was not operating at full speed. Just how many chips the Rio Rancho plant makes per day is a tightly held secret, as is how much money Intel makes from a particular line in a given day or from a particular plant. "The bottom line is that Intel has a company policy not to comment on any kind of product in process," said Terry McDermott, the company's Rio Rancho spokesman.

At the Philips Semiconductor plant, a fire broke out in one of the company's two manufacturing lines. Philips spokeswoman Karyn Scott said the fire could be related to the power failure but the company did not know. She said the fire caused smoke damage to the plant, and one production line could be down for several days. The last time a significant power event caused damage at Intel was in 1996 when a glitch in a PNM computer knocked out electricity. The outage was for just a couple of minutes, but the company's two plants at that time were idled for up to five hours because of the incident.

Across town, Honeywell's AlliedSignal Power Systems plant, which makes industrial-sized electrical generators and also uses them to power its own plant, also found itself in the dark. The Honeywell plant, however, was without power for much different reasons than everyone else -- it had too much power and had to shut down. "The way our plant works is we're a power generator, we supply electricity back to the grid," division president Tony Prophet said. "We were testing several systems simultaneously (when Saturday's outage happened). When the grid goes down, we have to stop producing power." The plant has to cease power generation to ensure the safety of PNM workers who may be working on power lines during a power failure, he said. The plant is not set up to use its own generators as backups in case of a power failure.

Saturday's power failure, which affected more than 1 million people from Questa to El Paso, began about 4:30 p.m. and was the largest in PNM's history. An investigation into what caused the power failure began Sunday, Brown said. The utility believes it was a brush fire near power lines on the Navajo Nation near Kirtland in San Juan County. PNM is expected to appear before the Public Regulation Commission on March 28 to report on the failure, Commissioner Herb Hughes said. The cause of the fire might never be determined, said Capt. Buck Hamilton of the Valley Fire Department, which fought the 1,500-acre fire that affected transmission lines in the area. "The fire was so big by the time we got there, we really have no idea where it started," Hamilton said.

In Albuquerque about 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, PNM had to evacuate 900 employees from its Downtown headquarters in response to a bomb threat. A spokesman said it was unknown whether it was related to the power failure.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 21, 2000.

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