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Utilities Roll Out Pandemic Plans: More Cleaning, No Disconnects

March 16, 2020
Xcel has staffing plans in place for power plant operators, line workers, customer care representatives and others whose work will help ensure continuous service.

Electric utilities continue to respond to the quickly evolving COVID-19 outbreak, also known as the novel coronavirus.

Xcel Energy’s CEO Ben Fowke said in a release posted to the utility’s website that his utility is taking steps to prepare in the eight states it serves.

“The energy grid is a key part of our nation’s critical infrastructure, and we take our responsibility to our customers and our employees very seriously,” Fowke said in the release. “Our customer care representatives will be ready to help if you have questions or requests for service. We also have easy-to-use tools so you have quick access to many of our services. Our automated phone system, mobile app and website make it easy to report power outages or take care of other business.”

Fowke said Xcel is in constant contact with state, local and federal authorities and health organizations to coordinate its response. It also has staffing plans in place for power plant operators, line workers, customer care representatives and others whose work will help ensure continuous service.

Xcel has also joined a large number of other utilities in pledging not to disconnect any residential customers until further notice.

Ameren Illinois is another of these utilities suspending disconnects. The utility announced Sunday via press release that effective immediately, Ameren Illinois would suspend service disconnections and forgive late payment fees through at least May 1.

"The COVID-19 pandemic may result in lost income for some of our customers, particularly the most vulnerable. We want all of our customers to have peace of mind that they will have energy service as we navigate through this unprecedented situation," said Richard J. Mark, Chairman and President, Ameren Illinois. 

Aelectra Utilities, based in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, said it would work with its customers on payment turns and also not disconnect customers.

“I want our customers to know that we are focused on meeting their needs, and the needs of the communities we are operating in,” Brian Bentz, President and CEO of Alectra said in a press release. “We are closely monitoring the situation as it unfolds and will continue to take all necessary precautionary measures to ensure the safety of our customers, employees and the public.”

The utility also said it was initiating detailed pandemic plans to ensure the physical well-being of customers, employees and the public.

“This includes closing our payment drop boxes, restricting visitor access to our facilities, ensuring that our facilities are frequently cleaned, common workplace surfaces and areas are disinfected, and social distancing and work-from-home procedures have been put in place for employees where possible,” according to a release from Alectra.

In California, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is activating its pandemic plans and telling customers that the situation should not affect reliable delivery of electric power.

“PG&E's response to the COVID-19 pandemic is focused on efforts to protect the health and safety of its customers, employees, contractors and the communities it serves. Actions the company has taken include providing guidance for employees who have direct customer contact to take social distancing precautionary measures, such as avoiding handshakes and wearing disposable nitrile gloves while in customers' homes,” according to a release from PG&E.

PG&E also announced a moratorium on service shut-offs for its commercial and residential customers until further notice.

Pepco, which serves Washington, D.C. and parts of Maryland, said it is responding to the pandemic by closing its walk-in payment centers and instead collecting paper payments via dropboxes, which it will check daily.

"We are committed to helping every customer through difficult times, and we know there will be many challenges associated with this pandemic," said Dave Velazquez, president and CEO of Pepco Holdings. "From programs that provide supplemental support, billing options that spread costs more evenly, to relief of late payment fees, we are taking important steps to support our customers and communities."

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