TransmissionHub on June 24 held its fifth TransmissionHub Forum, titled, “COVID-19 and the grid,” featuring panelists: Carrie Zalewski, chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission; Thad LeVar, chair of the Public Service Commission of Utah; Chris Kelly, COO of US Electric New England at National Grid; and Peter Colussy, senior manager of regional affairs of the California Independent System Operator.
The second part of this two-part article features brief highlights from the panelists’ presentations. The first part, published on July 2, presented an overview of some of the electric transmission projects that TransmissionHub is tracking to be in service in the next few years, as well as coverage on COVID-19.
LeVar noted that Utah residents are served primarily by one electric and one natural gas utility, which is also the provider for some of the electric utility’s generation facilities. Utah’s governor declared a state of emergency related to COVID-19 in early March 2020, and the commission received filings from both major utilities shortly thereafter seeking commission approval for the utilities’ plans to suspend disconnections and late fees, for instance, LeVar said.
In both instances, the commission followed its normal processes, including by inviting comments from interested stakeholders, he said, adding that the pre-established processes worked in this emergency situation.
Kelly noted that National Grid’s CEO said early on that “during this planning window, there would be no layoffs based on what was happening at the time.”
Some actions that the company took right away was have all non-essential personnel work from home and implement travel restrictions for all employees between company sites unless they were operationally critical. The company took a conservative approach with its control centers, he added, noting that National Grid “decided to sequester these employees on site, 7 by 24.” National Grid was also “able to stop collections right away,” as well as shutoffs.
Colussy said that the ISO believes “that information sharing is really the best option for us all, so we engaged in active conversations with other ISOs and RTOs across the United States, as well as those globally, specifically those in Italy and France.”
He also noted that control center operators were isolated, the ISO issued personal protective equipment for its staff, and non-essential personnel set up home offices. Understanding that this new paradigm put additional stress on staff, the ISO provided about two hours per day of administrative leave time to take care of such family matters as home schooling, Colussy said.
Zalewski noted that the Illinois commission early on called on utilities to halt shutoffs and late payment fees amid the coronavirus concerns, adding that after that action, parties, including the consumer advocate, came together “and what came out of it was a historic stipulation with landmark consumer protections.”
The commission on June 18, 2020, said that it voted in favor of a stipulated agreement with the state’s largest utilities that called for, among other things, deposits associated with late or non-payment arrearages or credit-related issues for new or existing customers to be waived for at least six months for residential customers who express financial hardship.
To hear the panelists’ full remarks, including their responses during the webcast’s question-and-answer portion, please register to hear a replay of the webcast here.