Companies increase safety measures due to COVID-19 as transmission construction continues

To find more information on COVID-19, please visit such websites as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Many companies are adding safety measures as they continue construction on electric transmission projects in light of the new coronavirus disease called COVID-19, officials told TransmissionHub during the week of March 16.

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website, COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. The new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China in December 2019, according to the site. According to the WHO’s “COVID-19 situation dashboard” — as it was posted at 8:13 p.m., EST, on March 20 — there were 234,073 confirmed cases in 176 countries, areas, or territories, and 9,840 deaths. At that time, there were 10,442 cases in the United States and 736 cases in Canada, according to the site.

In a statement provided to TransmissionHub on March 17, Entergy Corporation said: “We are confident our business continuity plan, which is specifically designed for these types of situations, will ensure the reliable delivery of electricity and natural gas to customers’ homes and businesses as we respond appropriately to any potential risks. To date, we have not postponed or delayed any large generation or transmission projects.”

The company continued: “We are planning for the continued safe operation of our power plants, transmission and distribution system through a process to identify which employees must work on site, which can work from home, [and] which must work in the field …. We are limiting access to areas where essential employees must be on site, such as control rooms and control centers. We are sanitizing and securing access to those areas in a conscious effort to maintain a healthy work environment for those key employees.”

Joan Dietz, communications manager with Basin Electric Power Cooperative, on March 17 told TransmissionHub, “We have not stopped construction of any projects currently underway.”

Dietz noted: “Basin Electric is taking measures to protect the health of its employees, and thus its members and communities, by limiting situations in which the virus can be transmitted. Some things Basin Electric is doing is offering employees who are able to, the option to work from home; business travel is restricted until further notice; and employees are asked to stay home if they are displaying signs of being ill. Plans are in place for business continuity at Basin Electric’s facilities, including staffing arrangement to provide continued operation of our facilities.”

In a statement provided to TransmissionHub on March 17, Basin Electric CEO and General Manager Paul Sukut said: “Electricity is more important now than ever. It is essential to keep homes powered and critical facilities such as hospitals, pharmacies, farms, and businesses open and functional so they can provide the vital services and supplies needed to combat this pandemic. We are committed to keeping the facilities that generate this power up and running, and we have made the necessary provisions to continue providing power for our members and communities.”

In a statement provided to TransmissionHub on March 18, Duquesne Light Company President and CEO Steve Malnight said: “Electricity is always critical, but it is especially critical in a time like this. Not only does Duquesne Light power homes and businesses, but also it powers hospitals, research labs and emergency facilities. At this time, Duquesne Light has not put any transmission projects on hold but continues to evaluate the situation in order to provide safe and reliable service to customers.”

Malnight also said, in part: “Alongside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [(CDC)], the Allegheny Health Department and other local officials, Duquesne Light is taking the necessary steps to keep its employees healthy so it can continue to provide the region with safe, reliable power, including work from home provisions for as many employees as possible, social distancing, and staggering starting times and locations for field crews. We have also enacted customer protections including a moratorium on any shut off or late charges until at least May 1st, reprioritizing work to minimize outages, and additional inspections for equipment serving hospitals and other critical service facilities.”

Jody Lau, communications project manager with American Transmission Company (ATC), on March 18 told TransmissionHub: “ATC transmission construction and maintenance work is proceeding as planned. We are prioritizing projects should limitations of resources and materials require us to do so. We and our contracted partners are following government guidelines for personal health and safety, including distancing and handwashing. With the exception of critical roles, our office staff is working remotely from home. We are continually monitoring the situation and will make adjustments as necessary.”

WEC Energy Group spokesperson Amy Jahns on March 18 told TransmissionHub, “As of now, our company has not stopped construction on any projects.”

As noted in a message from WEC Energy Group President and CEO Kevin Fletcher, the company:

  • Is in constant communication with local, state and federal agencies and health organizations to ensure that it is apprised of the latest developments and to coordinate its response
  • Will not disconnect service to any residential customers until further notice
  • Has staffing plans in place to ensure natural gas workers, power plant operators, line workers, customer care representatives and other critical team members continue delivering reliable service
  • Has travel restrictions in place for employees, and is asking many employees to work from home, while also further enhancing sanitation at company facilities

Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) spokesperson Mike Jennings on March 18 told TransmissionHub, “None of our transmission projects [are] impacted.”

As noted in a March 17 company statement, PSEG’s Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), among other things:

  • Is practicing social distancing. Depending on the situation, PSE&G may determine that additional personal protective equipment protocol is warranted for the health and safety of its workers and customers
  • Has temporarily suspended various types of non-critical repair work on metering equipment to limit the number of service visits to customers’ homes. PSE&G will continue to respond to all emergency and essential work, such as gas leak calls, medical emergencies, no-heat and no-hot-water calls
  • Has suspended shut-offs of electric and/or gas service to residential customers for non-payment
  • Has directed all employees who can work remotely to do so

Hydro-Québec spokesperson Francis Labbé on March 19 told TransmissionHub that regarding Hydro-Québec’s transmission line projects that are not yet under construction, certain activities related to public consultation are postponed.

“Hydro-Québec has not interrupted any work at its construction sites,” Labbé said. “However, hygiene measures have been increased considerably. Before getting on a plane traveling to our sites, our employees have their body temperature taken. For example, as soon as they arrive at Romaine-4 construction site, employees must answer questions regarding themselves or their families, developed by public health, related to physical symptoms associated to COVID-19. If they do have symptoms, personally or in their entourage, they are sent back home. Fortunately, no Hydro-Québec employees have been affected by the [coronavirus].”

Labbé also said that cleaning of the premises is much more frequent than usual, and that employees are requested to respect the sanitary distance of one meter with their colleagues. Noting that any nonessential meeting is postponed, Labbé said that those that must take place are being held either by conference calls or video conferences as far as possible. Labbé also noted, for instance, that Hydro-Québec’s employees whose duties do not require a physical presence at the workplace work from home. In addition, Labbé said, a program has been put in place to help teams manage anxiety that the current situation may cause.

Labbé noted that in the coming weeks, Hydro-Québec will not interrupt the electricity service for residential and business customers who cannot pay their bills. The winter moratorium on service interruptions, which runs from Dec. 1 to March 31, is therefore already extended until further notice, Labbé said, adding that residential and business customers who expect to have difficulty paying their bills are invited to enter into a payment agreement now on the company’s website or by phone at 1-888-385-7252. Labbé noted that Hydro-Québec has announced that there will be no planned outages for system maintenance over the next few days, except those that are absolutely essential.

Melissa McHenry, managing director, external communications with American Electric Power (AEP), on March 19 told TransmissionHub, “We have not stopped construction on any of our transmission or generation projects. We are working with our contractors on their COVID-19 response and continue to monitor the availability of labor.”

She continued: “AEP understands the critical nature of the services we provide and is committed to the health and safety of our customers, communities and employees. We prepare for all types of emergencies, but have updated our plans for the COVID-19 pandemic. We are closely monitoring the situation and don’t anticipate COVID-19 will disrupt our ability to provide electric service for our customers.”

McHenry noted that AEP’s line workers and other employees critical to maintaining service are working in smaller teams, adjusting work schedules, practicing social distancing, monitoring themselves for any symptoms and taking other prevention measures recommended by the CDC.

“All employees who can are working from home to help prevent the spread of the virus,” she said. “We are continuously educating our employees about COVID-19 and collaborating with other companies in our industry, government experts and public health agencies to adjust our response. We’re also continually monitoring and working to heighten employee and customer awareness of scams as well as cyber security risks.”
McHenry said that the company has temporarily suspended all service disconnections for non-payment. AEP urges customers to try to keep their accounts current, she said, adding that if customers are having trouble paying their bills, they should contact AEP by phone or through Facebook or Twitter to discuss payment options.

McHenry noted that AEP has restricted outside visitors to all of its facilities — except for delivery trucks — and has restricted all business travel that is not business-critical, as well as restricted participation in face-to-face meetings.
Among other things, she said: “We are monitoring any coronavirus tests, diagnoses and exposures of our employees and their household members, as well as personal international travel and international visitors staying in their homes. Some team members will be asked to self-monitor or self-quarantine depending upon their exposure.”

In a statement provided to TransmissionHub on March 19, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) said: “At this time, NYPA is moving forward with essential generation and transmission work. NYPA is using its Incident Command structure to manage operations and communications in light of the COVID-19 virus. The multidisciplinary team is regularly communicating important health and safety information to all employees. NYPA is following [New York] Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s recommendations regarding employees working from home and for social distancing. NYPA is also implementing additional protocols for the health and safety of essential plant staff.”

John Lamontagne, director of communications, Wholesale Networks & US Capital Delivery, with National Grid, on March 20 told TransmissionHub, “Construction of transmission facilities is continuing as they are vital to the continued reliability of the system, but we have implemented more stringent safety and ‘distancing’ protocols, including working in smaller teams and ensuring that workers with possible symptoms stay at home or are sent home.”

He noted that the company has implemented a pandemic plan, as well as departmental business continuity plans, including for its generation and transmission business. National Grid has activated its US Crisis Management Team and stood up a full Incident Command Structure to prepare and respond to the situation, Lamontagne said, adding that teams that directly support the safe and reliable operations of National Grid’s systems are reporting to work sites. Office support-based employees, where it makes sense for the roles they perform, have been asked to work from home, he said.

“We are continuing to operate our generation facilities, and are ensuring our employees are following safety and ‘social distancing’ protocols, using personal protection equipment as needed,” he said, adding that National Grid has deployed additional cleaning measures at company facilities and has temporarily restricted visitor access to its facilities.

One company that is suspending construction is VELCO.

Shana Louiselle, Communications & Policy Advocate with VELCO, on March 20 told TransmissionHub: “In response to COVID-19, VELCO will be suspending all construction and routine maintenance until further notice including work on a substation refurbishment project known as the Berlin Substation project, and scheduled pole replacements. We will be fully capable to respond to emergencies, alarms or outages. This is an evolving situation, and our operating procedures may shift as we learn more. We are constantly monitoring and making operational decisions based on the new information we get every day.” 

Louiselle continued: “As part of our commitment to safety, VELCO is closely monitoring developments related to COVID-19 and taking precautions to protect the health and wellbeing of our employees and the communities we serve, and maintain critical business operations to reliably deliver power and keep the lights on.”

Louiselle noted that because of the potential risks associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, VELCO is following the guidance of the CDC and implementing these precautions:

  • 

All employees who can work from home are doing so. VELCO has the technology in place to ensure that its team can work effectively and stay in touch on common projects and work through teleworking. VELCO’s insurance provider is offering stress and counseling services and telehealth for all employees
  • VELCO offices are closed to the public and grid operators are being separated between two control rooms. VELCO is also taking measures to re-qualify former grid operators that work at VELCO in different roles now, to ensure VELCO’s operator bench is robust
  • VELCO has enhanced cleaning protocols at its facilities, and encourages employees to adopt healthy habits, and if sick, to stay home and call their doctor

Dominion Energy spokesperson Jeremy Slayton on March 20 told TransmissionHub, “Right now our focus is on the coronavirus and continuing to provide safe, reliable energy to our customers.”

In a March 17 statement, the company said, in part: “Our customers should not have to worry about losing service during this critical time. Therefore, Dominion Energy suspended all service disconnections for nonpayment earlier this week.”

Similarly, Cindy Tomlinson, manager — external communications with Alliant Energy, on March 19 told TransmissionHub, “At this time, the health and well-being of our customers is our top priority.”

In a March 18 statement, Alliant Energy said that it is temporarily suspending disconnections for all of Iowa and Wisconsin customers during the public health emergency related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The company said that it also plans to waive late fees in Iowa to help customers who are suffering financial hardships and will collaborate with partners and organizations in Wisconsin to offer a similar solution.

Other companies that provided informational links to TransmissionHub for this article include AVANGRID, Avista Corp., Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and WPPI Energy.

To find more information on COVID-19, please visit such websites as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.