Natural gas and electric power utilities across the United States braced for the continued spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus disease on Wednesday, as the World Health Organization officially called the disease a pandemic for the first time and the number of documented cases in the United States surpassed 1,000.
In the state of Washington, where the death toll Wednesday stood at 26 and the number of confirmed cases had reached 283, the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) urged its regulated companies to review their continuity and emergency operations plans in order to be prepared for any necessary operational changes, and to limit travel and encourage working from home whenever possible.
“We’re staying in contact with our regulated companies, and checking in with them about their plans,” UTC spokesperson Emilie Brown told NGI, adding that “we’re going to continue to keep an eye on things as they relate to continuity of service and customers being able to pay online...”
At UTC, Brown said, “We are examining all of our events, our workshops and our prehearing conferences, and moving many of them to online or virtual, and we’re asking our regulated companies to follow similar guidance and to take a look at their own policies.”
In Westchester County, NY, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday imposed a containment area around the city of New Rochelle amid an explosion of confirmed Covid-19 cases, gas and power utility Consolidated Edison Co. (Con Ed) of New York Inc. was seeking to minimize risk to its workers and customers while maintaining uninterrupted supply to consumers.
“We are continuing to provide service to all our customers,” Con Edison spokesperson Alfonso Quiroz told NGI. “As we monitor conditions in our service area, we comply with practices designed to protect health and well-being as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and New York City and New York State health agencies. We have provided information to our employees about precautions they can take to limit the possibility of infection.”
Spokesperson James Denn of the New York Department of Public Service (DPS) told NGI that the department “has been in communication and working with the utilities regarding their ongoing planning and employee communication efforts relative to the Covid-19 outbreak. Each utility has plans that address potential workforce impacts the outbreak may cause.”
Elsewhere around the country, other major utilities were following suit.
Merrillville, IN-based NiSource Inc., which serves nearly four million gas and power customers across seven states, has implemented the Incident Command System (ICS), a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) protocol that allows NiSource “to quickly link up with local, state or federal officials during any crisis, including a pandemic,” spokesperson Ken Stammen told NGI.
“While there have been no documented cases of Covid-19 at NiSource, we are taking a proactive, coordinated approach to prevent, mitigate and potentially respond to Covid-19,” Stammen said.
He added, “In the event of an outbreak in any of our service territories, we will first assess the amount of emergency work taking place in that particular area and then employ mutual aid from our other state operating companies within NiSource. We have also engaged, along with many of our peer utility companies, [and] with industry association partners to begin discussions regarding wider-spread mutual aid in the event of an outbreak.”
Houston-based CenterPoint Energy Inc., which supplies gas to more than 4.5 million homes and business, and power to more than 2.5 million metered customers, has restricted all non-essential travel, and prohibited all international business travel until further notice, spokesperson Natalie Hedde told NGI.
“CenterPoint Energy maintains a pandemic response plan in the event of outbreaks such as the coronavirus,” she said. “Our plan focuses on the protection of our workforce and the communities we serve while continuing to carry out our mission.”
She added, “We have engaged with our material suppliers to better understand the preparedness to assess any supply chain risks,” and said that “we are engaging with our peer utilities, industry trade organizations, commissions and others to assess different approaches to preparedness and to ensure we maintain a regular dialogue on this issue for the foreseeable future.”