Coronavirus: Critical staff may need to stay at work, says Ontario grid operator


TORONTO – According to the chief operating officer of the province, a group of key people to keep Ontario’s electricity system going could be locked in their control centers due to the COVID-19 crisis.

But it has so far proved pointless with a change of routine, said Peter Gregg, CEO of the independent power operator.

While about 90% of the personnel were sent to work from home on March 13, 48 other control room operators deemed essential continue to work, Gregg said in an interview.

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“We have identified a smaller cohort of critical operating room personnel who must enter to operate the system from our control centers,” said Gregg. “My biggest concern is to maintain their health and safety, because we are counting on them to do this essential work.”

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Some operators manage demand and supply of electricity in real time by requesting more or less production and keeping an eye on the distribution network, which also allows energy to be transported to and from the neighbors of the ‘Ontario. Others are planning and modeling scenarios to prepare for change.

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The essential operators were divided into eight teams of six working each on 12-hour shifts. The day shift works from a control center near Toronto and the night shift from a rescue center in the west of the city, said Gregg.

“It means that we don’t have a physical transfer between control room operators when changing shifts – we can do it remotely – and it also allows us to do deep cleaning,” said Gregg. “We are fortunate that the configuration of the room allows us to practice good social distancing.”

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If it became necessary, he said, bed, food and other on-site arrangements were made to allow operators to stay at their workplace, as did a similar agency in New York.

“If we have to put these critical employees on site, we have the capacity to do so. “

The IESO is responsible for balancing the supply and demand for electricity across the province. Because electricity cannot be stored, the IESO ensures that generators produce enough energy to meet peak demand while ensuring that they do not produce too much.

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“You see, obviously, a drop in commercial demand, a drop in industrial demand,” said Gregg. “But you also see a change in the demand curve, where normally you have people going to work and therefore the demand for housing is decreasing. But obviously, with them staying at home, you see an increase in residential demand. ”

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IESO also manages and regulates the wholesale electricity markets. Market prices are set based on accepted offers of electricity supply relative to expected demand.

With the pandemic forcing many businesses to close and people to stay at home, typical electricity needs have fallen by around 7% at a time of year which would normally decrease demand. It remains to be seen whether, and to what extent, electricity needs are evolving further amid strict isolation measures and the continuing economic impact of the epidemic.

Gregg said the operator is constantly modeling different possibilities.

“What we normally do is prepare for all of these types of emergency scenarios, and then test and drill them,” he said. “What we have experienced in the past few weeks is that these exercises are useful because they help us prepare for the moment when the real-time situation actually occurs. “

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© 2020 The Canadian Press


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