covid-19 utility response

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Australia, utilities around the country are taking action to ensure the delivery of essential services and keep their workforce and customers safe.

Below are three case studies of Coronavirus responses from utilities. 

Maintenance continues to keep Tasmanian drinking water safe

TasWater has affirmed that its priority is to provide safe and reliable drinking water and ongoing sewerage services to its customers. 

TasWater CEO, Michael Brewster, said TasWater is continuing with vital maintenance and renewal programs during this time. 

“We have enacted our emergency response plan and taken steps to ensure we keep our staff safe, while we continue to provide reliable water and sewerage services,” Mr Brewster said. 

“We are prioritising maintenance programs to ensure we can continue to supply safe and reliable water and sewerage services to our customers into the future.” 

These works include the state-wide water main renewals program that ensures there is greater water security across Tasmania. 

“By continuing with our maintenance and renewal programs we are providing greater surety of work for our contractors and their employees,” Mr Brewster said. 

“We understand the role TasWater has in supplying the state with essential services, but we also want to contribute to the local economy and to help keep Tasmanians employed.” 

Although these works are part of business as usual, with the increased number of Tasmanians working from home the impacts of occasional outages may be more apparent. 

Customers will be notified when a scheduled outage may occur in their area. 

Maintaining a secure energy supply in Queensland

Powerlink was planning for and responding to the COVID-19 situation as it had been evolving, and had already adopted a range of measures in response to the escalating situation.

With the Federal Government elevating its response on Sunday 22 March, the utility is also stepping up its activities.

Powerlink’s response planning is designed to ensure that it maintains a secure and reliable transmission supply for more than four million Queenslanders.

Its team has put plans in place to ensure essential workers are available to maintain critical operational and business functions and it will respond accordingly if the situation escalates further.

At this stage, Powerlink expressed no immediate concerns about impacts to power supply or the transmission network.

The utility’s oil testing and laboratory services are not impacted as of 24 March. It has implemented appropriate new procedures for staff and adjusted the day-to-day management of the laboratory as required.

Any deliveries made in person are placed on the trolley provided adjacent to the laboratory door. If customers need to speak to a laboratory staff member, they must adhere to social distancing recommendations.  

Powerlink has also implemented restricted visitor access to its sites and postponed certain engagement activities and other work-related events. 

The utility’s focus to date is on prudent avoidance activities to ensure people’s safety and manage any potential impacts to the operation of the transmission network.

Powerlink’s actions are consistent with Australian and Queensland authorities as well as advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Powerlink’s Chief Medical Advisor.

Measures to deliver sewerage services

Barwon Water is working to continue delivering essential water and sewerage services and ensure the health and safety of its community and employees.

The utility said it was taking all necessary steps to ensure the Coronavirus pandemic does not threaten the continuity and quality of services Barwon Water provides.

Some of these steps include:

  • Activating a Pandemic Incident Management Team and business continuity plans
  • Promoting and enforcing good hand hygiene practices to all employees
  • Implementing mandatory social distancing measures

The utility’s water treatment and disinfection facilities are designed to remove or inactivate the most resistant pathogens from the water supply, including viruses like coronavirus (COVID-19).

There is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmissible via wastewater systems. Existing disinfection methods at sewerage treatment plants are expected to be sufficient to inactivate COVID-19.

Baron Water said it would continue to treat sewage to the relevant guidelines and standards to protect public health and the environment. This includes best practices for protecting the occupational health of workers at treatment facilities.

Barwon Water is also reminding customers that toilet paper is the only true flushable. Any other paper product (tissues, wet wipes, napkins, paper towel) must not be flushed and belong in the bin. 

This is a serious issue as sewer pipes can become blocked which can lead to raw sewage spilling out into streets or creeks, or even people’s properties.

As an essential service, the utility often has necessary maintenance to carry out to ensure customers get the water and sewerage services they need and expect.

Barwon Water or Barwon Asset Solutions staff may knock on customers’ doors or approach pedestrians in the street as part of essential work they are undertaking, but the utility said these employees were practicing social distancing and good hand hygiene as advised by state and federal authorities.

The utility has, however, closed its customer counter until further notice, as a precautionary step to enable it to continue to provide essential services. This will help minimise the risk of COVID-19 spreading to staff. Customers can still contact staff via phone or email. 

Barwon Water is also assisting customers that may be financially impacted by COVID-19, and has made payment support options available via phone.

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