News, O&M, POWERGEN

Editor’s Note: Pandemic now impacting utilities in a personal way

Illustration courtesy of Centers for Disease Control.

The novel coronavirus, which has swept throughout the world, is also impacting the power generation sector in a very personal way.

In addition to stories about suspending service disconnection and donations to fighting the virus outbreak, there is a human element impacting utilities. This is further proof that no one is immune to COVID-19.

Detroit-based DTE Energy announced this week that three employees tested positive for the coronavirus. The utility also reported that two of its vendors revealed three positive cases, adding that none of those cases involved direct contact with any of DTE’s three million customers.

“The entire DTE family is keeping everyone impacted by this virus in our thoughts and prayers. We are supporting our impacted coworkers and their families through this difficult time to make sure they are well-taken care of,” said Jerry Norcia, president and CEO of DTE Energy. “My leadership team is working around the clock on our response to the pandemic, and we continue to put the health and safety of our customers and employees first throughout this crisis.”

The company, like many, has responded to the crisis by isolating employees and closing its office for a deep cleaning. (Editor’s note: Clarion Energy, parent company of Power Engineering and POWERGEN International, is doing the same thing).

DTE Energy is one of dozens of U.S. utilities which have suspended service disconnections for non-payment in the wake of the coronavirus which already has infected nearly a quarter of a million people and killed 10,000 worldwide in a matter of four months.

Given the sweep of the virus globally and infection of many well-known people, including film stars, professional athletes and politicians, it is not alarmism to project that many people in the power sectors are in danger. At the same time, the utilities are letting the public know that power plants are still staffed and electricity will keep flowing.

This last point is key in that the spring season and its storm offensive is beginning. Weather will likely cause outages, and utility crews will venture out to fix lines and substations.

Entergy Arkansas CEO Laura Landreaux pointed out as much in her letter on the Energy Corp. website.

“In our 100 years of serving our customers, we have faced many challenges together,” Landreaux wrote. “But we have never wavered in our commitment to do everything we can to support our customers and the communities we serve. This pandemic is no different. Entergy Arkansas will be there to keep the lights on and our future bright.”

This type of letter has been and will be written by other power sector executives in the coming days and weeks. The coronavirus brings a challenge not seen in decades, indeed, but it’s a reminder that service providers are human beings who, like all of us, live, work hard and get sick sometimes.

Here’s hoping and praying that all of DTE’s employees and vendors get well soon. This, too, will pass, but from all indications so far the power utility service is steady and ongoing. And for this we can be thankful.

We need good news.