Utilities and power generators worldwide are altering their business practices and developing strategies for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s particularly critical for the power industry, as a reliable supply of electricity is essential to prevent even more economic disruption. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lists utilities among the 16 industries that the agency considers critical infrastructure sectors, including power plants, dams, and nuclear reactors, along with transmission systems.
The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the leading utility trade group, in a recent memo to its members said as many as 40% of utility workers could be directly impacted by the coronavirus, either through personal illness, being placed in quarantine, or called away to care for other sick family members.
Several utilities, like other businesses, have established telework protocols for their office staff. Fort Collins Utilities in Colorado has told non-essential, non-critical employees to work from home, and has implemented its “continuation of services” plans to ensure operations and service deliveries continue as usual.
The Platte River Power Authority, which provides wholesale power to Fort Collins Utilities, also told its employees to work from home, and its essential on-site staff is separated into two, unconnected buildings. Employees in either building cannot enter the other building, or have in-person contact with the other building’s workers.
Southern California Edison has said 8,000 of its 13,000 employees are working remotely.
“This type of situation, and its preparation, is what utilities live for,” said Mike Byrnes, senior vice president of Veolia North America, and chief operating officer of energy consulting firm SourceOne, told POWER on March 18. “I worked for ConEd [Consolidated Edison in New York], and the guys really think about these things and they know how to prepare for them. They all pull together. They did it after 9/11, after the first World Trade Center bombing, after [Hurricane] Sandy. This is when the red tape goes out the window, and everyone gets done what they need to get done.”
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