Australia’s energy companies have ramped up protections for key operational workers at Australia’s largest power stations, and may include the total isolation of staff in a bid to prevent any impact to power supplies from the spread of Covid-19.
Representatives from the operators of Australia’s largest power generators told RenewEconomy that they are drawing upon emergency response plans that have long been established for situations where the ongoing operation of power stations, and therefore electricity supplies, may come under threat.
These measures may include the isolation of critical power station workers and control room operators, who fill essential roles in the ongoing operation of power supplies, to prevent cases of Covid-19 impacting the ability to generate electricity.
Reuters reported earlier in the week that power station operators in the United States are actively considering asking essential staff to live permanently on-site for as long as required, to protect staff from the spread of Covid-19.
According to reports, some major US electricity utilities have begun stockpiling bedding, meals and other supplies in preparation for a core group of staff to be permanently based on-site.
Operators of Australia’s largest power stations confirmed that non-essential workers have commenced working remotely, with essential staff required to remain on-site undertaking enhanced hygiene and social distancing measures, to ensure they remain fit and healthy to keep operations running without interruption.
Companies were drawing upon emergency plans that have been continuously developed and reviewed in the case of emergency, including severe weather, bushfires and pandemic responses, and prepared before the threat of Covid-19 was known.
Companies have introduced new measures to separate staff, as well as staggering shift-times to minimise direct interaction, as well as increased hygiene and site cleaning measures.
AGL Energy operates three of Australia’s largest power stations, including the Loy Yang power station in Victoria and the Bayswater and Liddell power stations in New South Wales, and has implemented a range of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at the sites.
“We have implemented a range of additional measures to protect our employees and mitigate the risk of infection at our generation sites. In addition to site specific business continuity plans, we have non-operational employees working from home,” AGL Executive General Manager Group Operations Doug Jackson told RenewEconomy.
“We have restricted access to control rooms and workshops, we’ve increased hygiene and site cleaning measures, and we’ve put social distancing measures in place to mitigate risks within the plant for our employees. We’ve also staggered meal breaks, separated the different shift teams coming on and off shifts, reduced the number of entry points to our site and restricted visitor and contractor access to the plants.”
AGL will consider the need to isolate key power station personnel on-site long term and will liaise with staff and their families if the need arises.
“Part of our preparation involves considering planning for the isolation of the site, and if this happens, we will be working closely with our employees and their families to ensure they know the care we will take in this situation.”
“We will continue to work with our people to keep the lights on during these unprecedented and uncertain times,” Jackson added.
A spokesperson for Origin Energy told RenewEconomy that the company had also implemented various precautionary measures at the company’s power stations, including “various isolation and social distancing actions to help protect the health and safety of our people and make sure we can continue providing a reliable supply of energy to customers.”
“This is an evolving situation and we continue to review the latest advice from the government and health authorities, and we would consider further measures as appropriate,” the Origin spokesperson added.
Origin Energy CEO Frank Calabria added that similar measures are being undertaken across both its electricity and gas supply portfolios, and said that there had been no “no material impact to energy supply operations as a result of Covid-19.
“Importantly, we have access to plenty of fuel including natural gas, coal and LPG and we’re looking to minimise any planned maintenance to further mitigate risks to our people and assets,” Calabria said.
“As a provider of an essential service, we plan extensively for these sorts of events and I’m proud of how our teams have responded and coordinated with industry to maintain reliable supply of power, natural gas and LPG to our millions of customers across the country.”
EnergyAustralia confirmed in a statement that they had introduced new practises to limit the contact between staff and the general community, restrictions on visitors to the company’s sites, limits on travel and having staff working remotely where possible.
The company confirmed that essential staff, including key operational staff at power stations and customer support centres remain online with additional protective measures.
Queensland’s Stanwell Corporation and CS Energy, which operate the state’s largest generators, both have similar arrangements in place, including the segregation of critical employees, including operational and trading staff.
The Australian Energy Market Operator confirmed last week that it had fully activated its pandemic response and business continuity plans, and was working directly with power station operators and network businesses to ensure continued electricity supplies.
“Having previously suspended travel, reduced face to face meeting and introduced social distancing measures, AEMO had now halted physical interactions across its offices, ceased participation at external events and directed staff performing non-critical roles to work remotely,” AEMO said in a statement.
“AEMO is in continual and open dialogue with generators, gas facilities, network businesses and other market participants on their preparedness capability to ensure secure and reliable energy supply is maintained during this challenging period,” AEMO CEO Audrey Zibelman said.
You can find the latest advice on the Covid-19 response from the Department of Health website. And you can also see our live blog on how Covid-19 is affecting the energy industry in Australia and world-wide.
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