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Utilities, Manufacturers, Associations, and Organizations Send Out A Different Type of Press Release

April 24, 2020
A summary of what we have seen trending with the industry-wide coalition in the past few days in the light of COVID-19.

In normal times, T&D World’s “Power Trends” section focuses on the latest trends in newest digital technologies being introduced to the grid. My virtual mailbox is usually full with the latest press releases from utilities and their supply chain (i.e., manufacturers, vendors, and suppliers), professional associations and organizations, unions, regulators, and many others. Normally these groups are focused on their latest achievements in research, product breakthroughs, record-breaking installations, gadgets being energized on the grid, and the latest world’s tech toys making their first appearances.

But these are not normal times, and there is nothing normal about our current state of affairs with the impact COVID-19 is having on our industry. We’ve noticed a trend with the press releases. They’ve changed from achievements to one of concern and support for their counterparts in the power delivery system and the customers relying on a constant flow of electricity. With that in mind, the staff at T&D World agreed not to focus on a couple of recent releases. Instead, here is a summary of what we have seen trending with the industry-wide coalition in the past few days.

Keeping Safe

First, our utilities have said they are following all Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines along with state and local directives to keep their staff and customers as safe as possible. Where possible, their staff will be working from remote locations, and taking advantage of the technology that makes that doable. A lot of utilities are donating N95 respirator and surgical masks to health care professionals and first responders. This personal protective equipment (PPEs) is in short supply. The donations are coming from the utilities’ own supply of PPEs that are being shared with these workers. Utilities’ resounding message has been that we are all in it together and these professionals need our support.

Utilities have also asked that their customers be told that they are all still here and available and have been quick to issue statements to reassure we are here for one purpose, which is providing electricity. They are assuring their customers that there will not be any shutoffs or penalties because a customer is unable to pay the bills. Most importantly, field personal are available for emergency work and will respond to any conditions requiring hands on attention and repairs.

Supply Chains

Another sector, the utilities’ supply chain, reported their factories and offices are working with reduced personal, but they are able to meet all of the orders they have. If emergency orders come in, they are being filled quickly. Critical staff has been given the technology to ensure business continuity for those required to work remotely offsite. Shift-flexing is being made available to production workers to accommodate both business and personal needs. They are also working with their network of suppliers to ensure an uninterrupted material flow.

Some really insightful announcements have been received from professional associations and organizations. Many have made available technical white papers and reports to both members and non-members. These files can be downloaded (I have taken advantage of several) from their websites. They have also reduced the price for online technical classes and are providing free webinars. Several of the group’s members remind us that many of us have been too busy to take advantage of all the education and training opportunities available from their groups. So, they are suggesting we take advantage of the downtime so many of us are experiencing.

Federal and state regulators have been busy issuing announcements too. They want to be proactive with guidance to utilities and operators of the grid in this challenging crisis. One emphasis has been on cybersecurity and the dangers of phishing email schemes to get inside the utilities’ firewall. They have provided guidance with acceptable non-compliance  issues concerning some reliability standards. They have also postponed site audits and extended deadlines for filings. In addition, there are provisions allowing waivers on orders, regulations, tariffs, and rate schedules. The regulators ask utilities and operators check with their web sites about the specifics of all the policies and procedures announced in light of the COVID-19 emergency.

There is another impressive trend being reported in the press release from members of this consortium. They are donating millions of dollars for local relief efforts focused on affected communities and low income customers. Employee volunteers and their companies are making donations to local food banks, and helping deliver food to isolated seniors and low income school children.

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