Utilities

Current Impacts

Social distancing, business shutdowns and mass work-from-home policies have significantly impacted utility providers, ranging from changing electric load patterns to increased home internet usage. Utility companies were better prepared than most for business interruption and able to execute service continuity plans that were already in place. However, some non-essential construction and regular maintenance activities are on hold as employee safety is prioritized through social distancing.

Future Trends

Remote Work

Utility organizations have deployed mass work-from-home solutions for workers who are able to do so. This trend should be expected to continue as the pandemic situation evolves, ensuring the health and safety of utility workers across the Iowa region. For those who can’t work from home, ensuring proper social distancing and equipment will be key to limiting the spread of COVID-19 amongst the utility workforce.

Suspension of Shutoffs

Utility providers have generally followed a moratorium on disconnections during the pandemic to ease financial burdens on vulnerable consumers. However, as a result, some utility providers are anticipating cash flow challenges in the coming months.

Sequestering Preparation

As utility companies manage the significant impacts of COVID-19, organizations have revisited their sequestering policies for critical facilities. Ensuring that the required resources exist and are attuned to social distancing rules will be key.

Recommended Practices

Health & Sanitation

  • Conduct a health screening with all employees before their shifts in accordance with the most up-to-date recommendations from the local public health department.
  • Encourage employees who feel sick to stay home. Employees who may have been exposed to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should take precautions, including self-quarantine, in accordance with CDC guidance.
  • Train all employees on appropriate cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • When possible, practice social distancing of at least six feet and wear appropriate PPE when working in close proximity to other employees or customers, especially if entering a customer's home.
  • Increase the air exchange throughout operating buildings when feasible and restrict visitor access.
  • Designate members to sanitize vehicles, equipment and tools, with EPA-approved cleaning chemicals when appropriate, before every change in operator or user and anytime materials are delivered by an outside third-party.
  • When cleaning tools and equipment, workers should consult manufacturer recommendations for proper techniques and restrictions.
  • Utility repair trucks should have hand washing materials and supplies, masks, and cleaning supplies for tools and materials. 
  • Gloves should be worn at all times while on-site. The type of glove worn should be appropriate to the task. If gloves are not typically required for the task, then any type of glove is acceptable, including latex gloves. Gloves should not be shared.

Process & Space Modifications

  • Employees will be encouraged to stagger breaks and lunches, if practicable, to reduce the size of any group at any one time to less than 10 people.
  • If practicable, employees should use/drive the same truck or piece of equipment every shift and limit the use of other workers’ tools and equipment.
  • Encourage employees to work from home if possible. 
  • Minimize ride sharing among workers.
  • Limit congregation in office spaces and non-essential interactions across floors, buildings, campuses, worksites, etc.
  • Frequently disinfect high contact areas, such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment, etc.
  • On long-term job sites, consider setting up remote bathroom facilities on properties to ensure crews have safe environments.

Communication

  • Talk with business partners about your response plans. Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your value chain), Chambers of Commerce and peer associations.
  • Post signage at the entrance that states that no one with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19 is to be permitted in the establishment.
  • Provide reminders to employees and members of the public to stay at least six feet away from others when in the facility and mark six-foot intervals when possible.
  • Businesses should use messaging to remind employees of steps they should be taking to protect their own health while at work.
  • Ensure clear communication with customers regarding billing and payments, access to facilities, customer service options, monitoring of service impacts, etc.

Financial Relief and Assistance

As individuals and businesses face financial distress, utility organizations are stepping into a humanitarian role, providing essential services while delaying payments and creating payment plans that offer flexibility to those impacted. Additionally, MidAmerican Energy has donated $500,000 to over 30 organizations serving food banks, community foundations, and United Way agencies that address hunger and other community needs

Additional Resources