Y2K preparations paying off in crises of Y2K+1

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Y2K preparations paying off in crises of Y2K+1 By MICHELLE LOCKE Associated Press Writer

SEBASTOPOL, Calif. (AP) -- Y2K worriers took some ribbing when the computer bug they spent thousands preparing for turned out to be all buzz and no bite.

But they've got something to smile about now, as the preparations they took to ward off computer chaos give them the edge on dealing with rolling blackouts from the Year 2001 energy crisis.

"A wood stove's a nice thing to have around," says Santa Rosa graphics designer Bill Grey. "We're probably saving $100 a month at least."

The Year 2000 problem was that computer programs designed to recognize only the last two digits of a year to save space would read the year "00" as 1900. Government and corporations spent millions to fix the problem, but some worried they wouldn't be able to get done in time and began taking precautions.

Among them was Grey, who put in the stove, bought long-lasting rechargeable marine batteries for a backup electrical system and purchased solar panels. As it turned out, the Year 2000 arrived without incident.

But using the stove this winter has halved his utility bills. Meanwhile, the batteries kept his business Web site up during routine blackouts last summer and he expects to use it a lot more this summer, when the power crisis is expected to get worse as air conditioners in the hot Central Valley click on.

"It really gives you a sense of self-containment and sufficiency," he says.

A few miles away in the country town of Sebastopol, organic grower Shepherd Bliss prepared for Y2K by tracking the sun's movements to figure out the best way to line-dry his clothes and filling 55-gallon drums with water.

After the Y2K flap flopped he thought about tipping out the water, but decided to hang on to it. Now it serves as backup if a blackout cuts power to the electric well pump he needs to water his livestock.

Bliss hasn't lost his discontent with the high-tech, high-convenience bent civilization is taking, calling the energy crisis "a wake up call to self-reliance, to basic American pioneer values, frontier values, what made the west what it is."

Some got into generating their own power without the prod of Y2K fears.

"I would like to be independent of the grid, but it's not from fear. It just feels good to be independent," says Chris Beekhuis, vice president of engineering at efinance.com.

Beekhuis installed solar panels on the roof of his San Jose home about two years ago because he wanted environmentally friendly energy. He expected the system, which cost $13,000 after rebates, would pay for itself in 25 years.

With utility rates rocketing, the investment's looking smarter than ever.

His electric bill is less than $5 a month and sometimes the 2.2-kilowatt system provides more power than needed, which means Beekhuis gets to see his electricity meter turning backward.

"It's a wonderful feeling. In some ways, it feels like you're winning," he says.

In Santa Rosa, Grey, the Y2K preparer, never got around to installing his solar panels, not really convinced the power grid was going to collapse.

He's planning to rectify that omission.

"I really would like to be independent of these characters," he says


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 13, 2001

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