MARCH 30, 2020--As communities take action to slow the spread of COVID-19, one thing 10 million people across seven states don’t have to worry about is having clean, reliable low-cost electricity from the nation’s largest public power provider – the Tennessee Valley Authority.
“TVA has detailed plans in place for dealing with business continuity issues, including significant infectious disease events like a pandemic,” says Patrick Walshe, TVA Transmission Operations and Analysis manager.
Walshe’s team provides electric load forecasting for TVA. While power demand is typically lower this time of year due to mild seasonal temperatures, Walshe said TVA is ready for any contingency.
“Although schools and some businesses are shut down, we are still close to expected energy demand because of increased residential consumption,” he explains.
TVA reports little change in overall power demand usage during the pandemic. Power sales are dropping across the industry, and the utility is anticipating a drop in power sales as large industrial customers shut down to prevent the spread of the virus to their workers.
Walshe says not to worry, “We don’t have any issues meeting electric demand. We are managing the normal fluctuations of a diminishing load at night and we continue to manage that well.”
Cameron Lawson manages TVA’s Balancing Authority, which maintains reliable electricity throughout the Tennessee Valley, and believes TVA is doing well anticipating the demand for electricity. “We have a lot of energy data from other countries impacted by the coronavirus,” he says. “We proactively work with our power plant teams to manage minimum loads in the evening and peaks during the day.”
Lawson explains that managing the minimum load is just as important as being ready to meet peak demand. That’s because it’s expensive to start and stop electric plants. Rather than shutting off plants that might be needed to meet peak demand the following day, Lawson looks for ways to reduce power production. TVA power plants like TVA’s 1600 megawatt pump storage facility at Raccoon Mountain help offset load by generating enough power for almost 1 million homes by day and then using power at night to pump water back into the reservoir for use the next day.
“Our system operators are working closely with operators at TVA’s generating facilities to balance the load and ensure continued reliable power,” says Lawson. “As larger industrial customers scale back operations, we continue to manage the shifting load.”
In addition to turning down gas or fossil units when we have lower demand, if necessary, TVA can sell any additional power to other utilities to help their customers. “We work closely with power operations and transmission field crews to provide reliable power thought the valley. Flexible planning keeps us ready for any changes in demand.”
Supporting team members, such as forecasters in Walshe’s group, are able to work remotely. For those who are required to staff the operations center, there are extra precautions in place.
“We’ve moved the operations team to our alternate facility to be away from other employees,” says Lawson. “Only required personnel are allowed in, and we have deep cleaned the area. We encourage operators to wipe down their work areas and wash their hands regularly.”
There are emergency plans in place and we are prepared for situations like this. Lawson explains that as we receive continued direction from the federal government, we have already moved to minimum staffing and are prepared to sequester employees if needed for two week periods. “Right now we have only required staff and additional support can be called in if needed. We are prepared with meals, water, cots and other essentials should we need to shift to keeping employees at the work site.”
According to Lawson, it’s not unusual for operators to work from the alternate location. Operators say it’s no different than a normal day. They use the same equipment, work with the same crew and work to maintain a stable and secure system. Crews worked from the alternate facility when a Chattanooga water main broke back in September 2019 and staff the facility in severe weather.
TVA personnel are communicating across the power system to ensure alignment as we prepare for system load impacts related to coronavirus.
“The power’s going to be there,” says Lawson. “We’re working 24/7 to ensure reliable power. Operators at the plants and here at the operations center are still coming in and doing what needs to be done to keep everyone comfortable at home and the businesses that drive our economy going.”
“Our job, and we do it well, is to maintain the integrity of the bulk electric system.”
If you are having trouble paying your power bill during this time, TVA recommends that you contact your local power company. TVA has been working with them to provide flexibility to prevent disconnects for consumers.