As negotiations continue in Congress over the economic fallout brought on by the spread of COVID 19, electric utilities across the nation are doing their part to ensure that every American maintains access to reliable power.
Late last week, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) – the trade association representing all investor owned utilities (IOUs) and approximately 73% of all power customers nationwide – announced that every one of its member companies had policies in place to ensure that customers don’t lose power. The action by the nation’s largest utilities is in addition to announcements by smaller consumer-owned electric utilities like Flint Hills Rural Electric Association in Kansas or Coosa Valley Electric in Alabama that they would be suspending disconnects also.
This reassurance that utilities won’t be cutting off power as we all shelter in place to combat the COVID 19 pandemic is crucial. It’s equally important for customers and the public to recognize moving forward that maintaining reliable electric service must remain a focus. Today, utilities nationwide are going to great lengths to make certain that we all have access to reliable power as much of the workforce adjusts to the new norm of tele-working or as nearly every student – from kindergarten to highest levels of graduate work – adjusts to the new norm of online learning.
Some estimates have projected that up to 40% of utility workers could ultimately be affected by COVID 19 directly or indirectly. To combat the potential drastic contraction of the utility work force, electric utilities are making adjustments to keep the lights on. At the nation’s 60 nuclear power plants, for example, plans are being implemented to isolate core groups of personnel to ensure the continued operation of this baseload emission free power as we hit the peak of this pandemic.
Everything from ready-to-eat meals, portable beds, laundry supplies, and personal care items are being stockpiled for the continued operation of these critical facilities by these indispensable personnel. Utah’s Intermountain Coal Power Plant – a major source of the electricity for Los Angeles – combatted COVID 19 by suspending planned spring maintenance activity. The maintenance work would have brought an additional 200 personnel into a work area that already had 285 employees, needlessly fanning the spread of the virus.
Fortunately, on the heels of the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic, most utilities developed detailed pandemic plans in preparation for moments just like this. At the core of these plans is keeping critical operations employees healthy through isolation and, as was done in Utah, starving the virus of its fuel by suspending maintenance and other activities that would foster COVID 19’s spread.
As the Los Angeles Times aptly noted, “disaster planning is baked into the DNA of electric… utilities…That doesn’t mean responding to the coronavirus will be easy, but it does mean utilities have plans to keep supplying reliable electricity…while the crisis plays out.”
We all owe the utility industry a round of applause. In times of great uncertainty, all customers must have reliable electric service.