ISO-NE COVID-19 Pandemic Response
Tuesday, October 27, 2020 Update
Approximately 70% of ISO New England’s workforce continues to work remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those employees working on-site continue to adhere to established social distancing and other health and safety protocols.
ISO New England expects this arrangement to continue for at least the rest of 2020, especially as the number of COVID cases have recently begun to tick upward. We remain focused on the health and well-being of our employee, and are prepared to adjust to any changing conditions and guidance from state and federal public health agencies.
ISO Forecasters have seen demand for electricity return to near pre-pandemic levels this fall, as students and teachers across the region return to school in various in-person and hybrid environments. The ISO will continue to monitor conditions as the New England states reassess and update the phases of their reopening procedures.
Monday, August 31, 2020 Update
ISO New England is continuing with a cautious reentry of our workforce. Over the summer months, approximately 20 percent of the ISO’s workforce, largely volunteers, has been regularly working onsite, adhering to rigorous social distancing and other health and safety protocols.
The health and well-being of employees remains our top priority. We are monitoring state and regional COVID-19 trends, as well as decisions of local school districts concerning remote or hybrid learning. With these factors in mind, the return of employees to our facilities will remain largely voluntary for the remainder of 2020. Similarly, the ISO and the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL) will continue to hold all meetings virtually for the rest of the year.
Our plans remain flexible, and we are ready to adjust to changing conditions and guidance from state and federal public health agencies.
Thursday, June 18, 2020 Update
ISO New England began the reentry of our workforce this week, with about 25 volunteer employees resuming work onsite. Volunteers who would be interested in returning to the office environment and willing to be the first to practice our rigorous social distancing and other health and safety protocols were chosen. The next group of employees are returning July 6, with additional groups of staff continuing to return in phases thereafter. (Note that about 40 staff have continued to work at our two sites throughout the pandemic to manage the day-to-day operation of the power grid, support IT infrastructure, and maintain our facilities.) The health and well-being of employees is our top priority, and we will accommodate employees with underlying health conditions and concerns throughout this re-entry process. The plans we have developed are flexible to adjust to changing conditions. We will continually monitor and adapt this plan based on federal and state guidance, local conditions, and feedback from employees.
System demand changing with onset of summer weather
Beginning in mid-March, ISO New England began observing a decline of about 3 to 5 percent in consumer demand for electricity related to societal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past few weeks, we have seen demand begin to return closer to what we would expect without the pandemic, including just a 0.6 percent decline last week. Though some of this can be attributed to the phased reopening of portions of the New England economy, the biggest driver of this trend is the onset of warm, humid weather in the region. Other regions have also seen consumer demand move closer to pre-pandemic levels when consumers turn on their air conditioning to keep cool.
Thursday, May 28, 2020 Update
Due to the success of our remote work capabilities since March 13, ISO New England is able to take a measured approach to returning the majority of our workforce to our campuses in Holyoke, MA, and Windsor, CT, as the states reopen their economies. Note that about 40 staff have continued to work at our two sites throughout the pandemic to manage the day-to-day operation of the power grid, support IT infrastructure, and maintain our facilities.
Currently, we are planning to begin reentry of our workforce on June 15, with about 25 volunteer employees resuming work onsite. The first group will need to be comfortable returning to office and will be the first to practice rigorous social distancing and other health and safety protocols. This includes daily health questionnaires and temperature checks, using personal protective equipment, following cubicle and conference room occupancy standards, restricted cafeteria use and offerings, and contact tracing protocols. The health and well-being of employees is our top priority, and we will accommodate employees with underlying health conditions and concerns throughout this re-entry process.
Additional groups of staff will return in phases. By mid-October, pending MA and CT’s guidance on workforce occupancy and, subject to our own social distancing rules, we expect to have the majority of our workforce members back at our two locations. At this time, we also plan to continue holding stakeholder meetings via Webex until September. That allows us to collect several more months of data and information to determine how best to resume these meetings in person. Non-essential business travel will continue to be suspended and visitors to the ISO restricted over this same time period.
The ISO’s phased re-entry plan and health/safety protocols are based on guidance from the federal government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Massachusetts and Connecticut state requirements, and municipal mandates. We have also obtained guidance from an industrial hygiene, occupational safety, and environmental management consulting firm.
The plans we have developed are flexible to adjust to changing conditions. We will continually monitor and adapt this plan based on federal and state guidance, local conditions, and feedback from employees.
Responses to COVID-19 pandemic are not expected to have a material impact on ISO New England’s 2020 budget. Increases in unplanned spending due to the COVID-19 pandemic—such as measures to sustain control room operations; technology to support remote work; and health, safety, and environmental costs—will be largely offset by decreases in planned spending for travel, training, and the summer internship program, which has been significantly limited for 2020.
ISO Tariff collections are projected to be lower in 2020, reflecting the 3-5% decrease in regional electricity demand during the pandemic. The ISO expects to be able to offset the lower Tariff revenues with decreased spending on salaries, benefits, and network operations and computer services. We are monitoring the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic response on the economy and are reviewing our current and proposed 2021 budgets, accordingly.
Thursday, April 30, 2020 Update
ISO New England has extended remote work for the majority of its employees through June 1, 2020. Over the next several weeks, we will develop a plan for phasing in a return to operations at our two facilities in Holyoke, MA, and Windsor, CT. We will determine which employees will return and the timing of the phases based on business priorities and expect to take a measured pace over a period of several months. Given ever-changing circumstances, we will be prepared to adjust the plan as needed. All plans to return to normal operations will be predicated on ensuring the health and safety of our employees, and will be in accordance with guidance from state and federal officials.
As described in the April 23 update, all of ISO New England’s reliability, markets, and planning functions are proceeding as usual, and our lines of communication remain open. If you have questions about our pandemic response efforts or business processes, please reach out to our Media Relations team, Government Affairs team, or Customer Support team.
Thursday, April 23, 2020 Update
For the past six weeks, approximately 95 percent of ISO New England’s staff has worked from home. While this change was unprecedented and abrupt, ISO New England employees have answered the call. Backed by a strong IT support staff and infrastructure, employees have been able to do their work, ensuring that New Englanders have access to reliable, competitively-priced electricity.
While not all inclusive, some of the business conducted by ISO employees working remotely has included:
- Running the region’s wholesale markets efficiently and without interruption, including settling more than $1 billion in market transactions remotely
- Conducting engineering reviews to ensure generators and transmission owners can proceed with spring maintenance without threatening reliability
- Filing our Energy Security Improvements (ESI) proposal with FERC, meeting the April 15 deadline and concluding an extensive stakeholder process that spanned several years
- Continuing our stakeholder processes, including participating in more than a dozen stakeholder and working group meetings
- Continuing the review of proposals to address transmission issues in the Greater Boston area
Though there is currently no timeline for such a move, ISO senior management has started planning for the return of more employees to our Holyoke facility, a process that will likely be done in phases. All plans to return to normal operations will be predicated on ensuring the health and safety of our employees, and will be in accordance with guidance from state and federal officials.
Friday, April 10, 2020 Update
ISO New England continues to reliably operate the region’s power system, and efficiently administer the wholesale markets during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ISO’s market administration staff has smoothly transitioned to remotely clearing New England’s wholesale energy markets, ensuring the efficient dispatch of generating and demand-side resources.
Our forecasters continue to see a 3 to 5% decline in overall consumer demand for electricity due to pandemic-related societal changes. Consumer demand has also been lower than in previous years due to the mild weather the region has experienced over the past several weeks. We are evaluating what impact the pandemic will have on the region’s long-term electricity needs, but this analysis depends on a number of variables that are not known at this time, namely how long and to what degree social distancing measures remain in place in New England.
The spring, typically a time of low consumer demand, is when many generators and transmission owners perform routine maintenance. The ISO is working closely with resource owners to determine what work is time-sensitive, and what can be delayed.
“The New England electric industry’s spirit of collaboration has been on display during these uncertain times,” said ISO New England President and CEO Gordon van Welie. “Staff from the ISO, power plants, transmission companies, market participants, government officials, and other stakeholders are all working together to keep the lights on in New England during the pandemic.”
Wednesday, April 1, 2020 Update
ISO New England is following its business continuity and pandemic response plans as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve.
Since the middle of March, approximately 95% of the ISO’s workforce has been working remotely, with all reliability, markets, and planning functions being maintained. Staff working remotely will continue until at least May 4, following federal and state guidelines. For essential staff who remain working on-site, health and safety precautions to protect these staff have been implemented, including enhanced cleaning protocols and designating specific entry and exit points for different staff.
Operations staff have outreached to resource owners on readiness and to provide any needed support. These calls began in mid-March and continue weekly. Other regular conference calls include those with the local control centers, Northeast Power Coordinating Council, the Electric Gas Operating Committee, and EPRI.
“Our business has continued to run as smoothly as possible because of the commitment our employees demonstrate each day amid very trying times,” said ISO New England President and CEO Gordon van Welie. “While most are now working off-site thanks to tireless efforts from staff to support large-scale remote work solutions, some employees must continue to work on-site to maintain reliable power grid operations. I recognize the challenge this situation presents and extend sincere, heartfelt gratitude for their dedication.”
Friday, March 20, 2020 Update
(To expand on the March 20 update below, on March 31, ISO New England posted a Q&A with Mike Knowland, manager of forecasting and scheduling, discussing how the pandemic is changing the way his team forecasts consumer demand in the region.)
With residents and businesses across New England changing their behavior in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ISO New England is seeing a decline in system demand of approximately 3% to 5%, compared to what would normally be expected under weather conditions in the region. These percentages may change over time.
In addition to overall declines in consumer demand, these societal changes are also affecting demand patterns across the region. Our forecasters are seeing load patterns that resemble those of snow days, when schools are closed and many are home during the day. These patterns include a slower than normal ramp of usage in the morning, and increased energy use in the afternoon. Though the pandemic is affecting energy usage, weather conditions remain the primary drivers of system demand.
We will continuously monitor these ever-changing trends in load patterns, and make the appropriate adjustments to calculate an accurate load forecast. The region’s power system continues to remain reliable.
Thursday, March 19, 2020 Update
As the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic evolves across New England and the world, ISO New England continues to make changes to protect the health and safety of our employees, ensure power system reliability, and maintain essential business operations. Like those steps previously outlined (see below), the ISO is following its Business Continuity and Pandemic Response plans, and guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ensuring power system reliability
The ISO has taken a number of steps to protect power system operations, including:
- Limiting control room access only to control room staff
- Splitting system operations shifts between our main control center and our back-up center, minimizing the potential of cross contamination between crews and allowing for more frequent control room cleaning
- Coordinating with transmission companies, as well as other ISOs and RTOs to share best practices and situational awareness
- Communicating with resource owners to understand any challenges to their staffing or business operations
Maintaining business operations
In addition to maintaining system operations, the ISO has implemented measures designed to ensure a minimal disruption to company business. These include:
- Having all employees who are able work from home until further notice, and providing IT support during this transition
- Moving all stakeholder meetings to webinars or conference calls
- Holding regular conference calls with senior leadership and business leads to share situational awareness and plans
- Cautioning employees about potential phishing attempts related to the pandemic
Changing grid conditions
ISO New England anticipates the pandemic will affect the amount of electricity typically drawn from the bulk power system.
We are continuously monitoring the actions being taken by state, federal and local officials as well as those of the general public and businesses to limit the spread of COVID-19. We are evaluating the effects those changes are having on power system demand and are refining our load forecast to reflect the impact. We are leveraging a wide array of historical information and shared experiences across the industry to anticipate consumption patterns. Our forecasters are prepared to analyze these changes hourly, along with all of the other inputs, such as weather, required to forecast electricity demand in New England.
We will post updates to this notice as needed.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 Update
ISO New England has been closely monitoring the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak around the world and across the US through updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). To protect the health and wellbeing of its employees and maintain critical business operations, ISO New England is following guidelines set by the CDC, as well as our Business Continuity and Pandemic Response Plans.
Because of the potential risks associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, the ISO has taken these following precautions:
- Banned all international business travel until further notice.
- Restricted employee travel to all external meetings, effective March 12-April 30.
- Instructed employees to attend stakeholder meetings by teleconferencing and webinar capabilities only.
- Restricted visitors to the ISO facilities and cancelled all tours.
- Requiring all employees to report to management and HR any personal travel to an at-risk region, and/or contact with anyone who has traveled to an at-risk region.
- Enhanced the cleaning protocols at our facilities, focusing on high-touch areas and hard surfaces.
- Increased supplies of sanitizing products available to employees, including disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers.
- Prepared for employees to work from home, if it becomes necessary.
- Reminded employees to practice healthy habits and to stay home if sick.
- Cautioned employees about suspicious email and possible phishing attempts related to the outbreak.
- Developed safeguards to minimize risk and exposure to critical personnel.
The ISO has been in regular contact with our peer ISOs/RTOs, New England transmission companies and other market participants, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC), and all relevant government agencies to share situational updates and best practices.
We will post updates to this notice as needed.