US utilities announce zero shut-offs, ongoing consumer support

Power utilities across North America have been responding quickly to the COVID-19 outbreak, with many issuing both internal and external statements expressing support for customers, and suspending service cut-offs to minimise the rapidly-changing effects of the virus.

In California, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has announced the cessation of any cut-offs to residential and commercial customers, and is activating its pandemic plans.

A release issued by the utility states: “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,”

In Canada, Alectra Utilities, based in Mississauga, Ontario, has issued a release noting “Recognizing the economic uncertainty for customers across the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, Alectra will work with customers to provide flexible payment terms and will not disconnect customers during this time of uncertainty.”

CEO Brian Bentz assured customers “…we are focused on meeting their needs, and the needs of the communities we are operating in,” adding “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.”

Alectra has initiated detailed pandemic plans to ensure the health, safety and physical well-being of customers, employees and the public, including closing payment drop boxes, restricting visitor access to facilities, as well as further internal hygiene steps such as frequent cleaning and social distancing, including work-from-home procedures for employees.

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In Texas, Fox News 7 Austin reported the City of Austin Utility’s plan to discontinue any cut-offs in supply for commercial or residential suppliers.

In Illinois, Ameren has also assured customers of service and is also suspending disconnections.

“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 chairman and president Richard J. Mark in a recent press release.

One the North America’s largest utilities, Xcel Energy, which serves consumers across eight US states also joined the move to ensure continued power supply, with CEO Ben Fowke saying: “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,” adding “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.”

Xcel further assured its customers and stakeholders that constant contact had been established with local and federal authorities to ensure rapid response to any developments, along with staffing revisions to ensure customer service is maintained.

A recent update from the Edison Electric Insitute noted ” Electric companies have a strong track record of preparing for many kinds of emergencies that could impact their ability to generate and/or deliver electricity to their customers and the communities they serve” however, they warn, that the sector could still be facing as much as 40% of its workforce either working remotely, sick or nursing loved-ones in the weeks and months to come.