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COVID-19 has forced us to change the way we interact with one another, conduct business and engage in activities we took for granted just weeks ago. It continues to pose extraordinary challenges for families and businesses, impacting all aspects of our daily lives, especially the health of our neighbors and the regional economy.
In this pandemic’s midst, we’ve transitioned to online meetings and remote learning or streaming services and cell phones, and there is heightened attention on critical health services and ventilators. All of these are dependent on the steady flow of electricity produced by power plants. Electric generating companies are today working with public officials, utilities and the region’s grid operator, ISO New England, to keep electricity flowing. At more than 60 power plants across Maine, this incredible workforce is showing itself to be up to the unprecedented challenge we currently face.
Plant operators and employees are taking proactive and comprehensive steps to maintain safe facilities and a healthy workforce, all to ensure the continued stable operation of the region’s power plants.
Across Maine and New England, power plants have developed pandemic response plans that outline proactive procedures to maintain workforce and operational security, with contingency plans to provide employees with the food and supplies needed should they be sequestered on site for an extended period of time. No such protocols have been called for, but the industry remains prepared should additional steps be necessary to maintain public health and resilience.
In the meantime, individual plants are conducting temperature testing and screening employees and contractors, requiring use of company-issued personal protection equipment (PPE), increasing deep cleanings and sanitizing facilities, rotating shifts, staggering rotations, and requiring social distancing.
Generating stations have canceled or postponed non-essential projects in order to focus on core functions of maintaining reliable generation and mitigating the health risks to plant employees. Power generation companies are also maintaining vigilance over IT infrastructure since many functions now rely on employees working remotely over private networks. This is particularly important for those who manage plant dispatch operations who need reliable and secure connections with generating facilities and ISO New England.
Of course, the impacts of this crisis don’t stop at the facility gates and these plants are critical economic pillars in host communities. Many generating companies are making contributions to support the communities they serve that are being impacted by COVID-19. These include collectively tens of millions of dollars in pledges to support first responders, community relief funds, and teachers. Much of that is specifically directed to power plant host communities, providing hunger and energy bill relief for those individuals who have been especially impacted by income reduction and job loss.
Power generators and their critical workforce are doing all this to help ensure that we weather this crisis as quickly and safely as possible — with electric operations maintained and the power grid remaining a robust resource for all of us.
Power plant employees are just some of the critical behind-the-scenes workers who make sure that front-line healthcare workers can focus on the heroic work of treating the sickest among us. But they will continue to do their part while many of us work from home, engage in distance learning, or just stream the latest Netflix show.
This extraordinary crisis is shining a light on so many who help support our society and economy. Let us take this opportunity to thank those essential services, including saluting the men and women who keep the electricity generating to power our lives.
We should be proud of the leadership, expertise and flexibility of this workforce and the facilities they operate using their skills and dedication to serve Maine’s electricity demand when they are needed most.
Dan Dolan is president of the New England Power Generators Association which represents more than 90 percent of the region’s electric generating capacity.