Coronavirus Impacting the Energy Sector

Published On: March 9, 2020

Over the last two weeks, there has been a significant change in the normal course of business in California’s energy sector, with in-person meetings being canceled and conference calls becoming the norm.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) was one of the first to restrict travel:

“In light of heightened concerns about the flu/Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) contagion, SMUD announced today it is suspending all non-critical travel by SMUD employees through the end of March.”

In addition, SMUD’s restriction also extends to employees attending conferences and meetings.

“The restrictions are being implemented to limit the number of employees that may be exposed to COVID-19 at airports, conferences and non-essential business meetings… SMUD defines critical training and/or business necessity as training for compliance, needed certifications, critical contract and/or equipment purchases, and/or employee equipment/process training needs.”

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) followed suit in taking action to protect against the coronavirus risk. The CAISO has canceled all tours of the facility through March. CAISO is also restricting in-person meetings in its offices and off-site venues. Instead, CAISO is calling for teleconferences and webinars whenever possible.

Steve Berberich, CAISO President and CEO, said, “Until more is known about the origin, transmission, and treatment of the virus, the ISO is taking necessary proactive steps to protect the health and safety of our staff, our stakeholders and our customers, while safeguarding the critical infrastructure of the power grid and energy market. We understand that the new protocol may be an inconvenience, and we apologize for any changes in travel plans, but continued reliable operation of the electrical system is our company’s first priority.”

The policy also includes its Board of Governor’s meeting scheduled for March 13th. Even the energy associations are feeling the impact. The California Municipal Utilities Association recently canceled its annual conference that was scheduled for April:

“With great concern for our members’ health, and for a variety of other reasons, CMUA is postponing our Annual Conference, scheduled for April 5-7, 2020, at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. The coronavirus remains in a growth mode in the U.S., there have been emergency orders issued by the State of California and City of San Francisco, and many CMUA members have imposed travel restrictions.”

Scott Miller, Executive Director of the Western Power Training Forum (WPTF), also postponed the planned Houston Roundtable late on Friday, March 6:

“Due to concern over the coronavirus issue, I regret to say that we are postponing our WPTF Houston Roundtable on the future attributes of Resource Adequacy. As the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has indicated, the risks of attending such a meeting and having any danger from the coronavirus are quite low, but we don’t want concerns to cause members or stakeholders to miss an important meeting as a result of concern about this issue.”

“I want to emphasize this is a postponement, Miller continued, “ and I will reschedule as soon as it seems practical. I will also give our members enough notice to make appropriate plans. I apologize for any inconvenience and hope we will have a good turnout when we reschedule.”

In the near term, more utilities are expected to limit travel and public meetings to protect their employees and the public. Once public health officials state that the spread of the coronavirus is under control, will things return to normal? In the meantime, be prepared for more electronic communication rather than personal interaction.

About the Author: Matt Ross

Matt Ross is a Senior Consultant in the energy industry and has more than a dozen years of experience in state government. He can be reached at matt at govreport.org