Op-Ed: Texas Generators ensure lights, A/C are one less worry during COVID

Published 3:01 pm Thursday, August 13, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Michele Richmond
TCPA Executive Director

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped day-to-day life in the United States and across the globe; but despite all the changes, people continue to expect the lights and air conditioning to come on when they need them. Likewise, our healthcare institutions need reliable and resilient power for the care and safe recovery of patients.  The Texas electric generators comprising the Texas Competitive Power Advocates (TCPA) membership are not immune from the impacts of COVID-19, and the industry is evolving to answer the call to ensure reliable electricity continues to be available to meet the needs and expectations of Texans.

Demand:  During the first few months of the pandemic, COVID-19’s impact on the Texas electricity market was less severe relative to other industries like healthcare, but there were noticeable declines.  Texas’ grid operator estimated that energy usage was reduced by as much as 10% in some periods of March and April, but these declines are now negligible.

Generators are paying attention to how COVID-19-related changes in energy use are shifting patterns of demand or usage, known in the industry as load patterns.  Decisions being made now by school districts and universities can change the calculations on how much generation is needed and impacts what generators offer into the market.  Reduced operations among commercial and industrial users could reduce demand again, similar to what was experienced in March and April.  Generators as well as regulators are constantly monitoring patterns of electricity usage to ensure that sufficient power is available to meet needs throughout the market.

Reliability:  Electricity is widely known to be an essential industry, so operational personnel have remained on the job to ensure power needs are met. Most generators also take routine maintenance outages in the spring and fall to ensure maximum capacity is available in the peak summer and winter months. TCPA members completed their spring maintenance while working diligently to keep employees and contractors safe.

Electric generators see many of the same personnel challenges as other industries.  The pandemic has meant that some in-person meetings have been moved online, naturally, which comes with its own challenges.  And some vendors and materials are less readily available, meaning some stockpiles of parts and supplies have been depleted.  As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into the next maintenance season and beyond, the risk of workforce and supply chain interruptions will remain. Texas generators will need to remain nimble to manage those risks. Fortunately, two decades of competitive electricity markets in Texas have trained Texas generators to be flexible and resilient while maintaining reliability.

Operations:  Generators’ pandemic response efforts have leveraged technology where possible to help maintain reliability, but a large portion of the workforce must remain onsite to carry out operations.  As a result, rigorous testing and illness screening protocols are in place and enforced.  Generators have implemented safety protocols such as staggered shifts, utilizing back-up centers to isolate shifts from one another, intensified and increased cleaning frequency, and established contingency plans with regulators and grid operators to ensure continuous operations.

Community:  Having recognized the enormous hardships the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, TCPA member companies and their affiliates are contributing to direct relief efforts to help ease the financial burdens and supply challenges that exist both in Texas and other communities across the United States. These efforts have included instituting payment plans and other financial relief plans to ensure their retail affiliates’ customers can receive continuous and affordable service during this challenging time.

TCPA member companies are also active in direct community outreach, in addition to making numerous generous financial contributions. In total, TCPA member companies and their affiliates have contributed more than $13 million nationwide in financial relief to various organizations, to date, including the United Way, area food banks, local charities, first responder and essential worker relief funds, and electricity bill-payment assistance.

Cash and in-kind contributions have helped to provide safety supplies, personal protective equipment, respirators, community and small business relief, support for public school teachers and remote classrooms, learning programs, food and other basic necessities for the people of Texas and other communities served by TCPA member companies.

TCPA member companies continue to put in the work to power Texas.  Electric generators work closely with regulators to address the unique operational circumstances that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.  With all the new challenges facing Texans during this pandemic, TCPA members are dedicated to ensuring the lights stay on, homes and businesses remain cool, and healthcare institutions have the reliable power they need to continue fighting COVID-19 and saving lives.

Michele Richmond has served as the Executive Director of the Texas Competitive Power Advocates (TCPA) for almost two years. She has spent a decade working in the electric industry and more than twenty years in the Texas legislative arena. TCPA is a trade association representing power generators, and wholesale power marketers with investments in Texas and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) wholesale electric market. TCPA members are dedicated to helping ensure a successful energy future for Texas by investing in and operating diversified energy sources to ensure ample, reliable and affordable electricity for Texas consumers.