A Year Unlike Any Other
COVID-19 unleashed a tidal wave of epic proportions this year, inflicting human suffering and economic hardships, and disrupting social norms. As Oregonians dealt with the ebb and flow of the corona-virus, extreme high winds instigated catastrophic wildfires that took human life and burned homes and 1.5 million acres. The accumulative aftermath will be felt for years, leaving 2020 a year many would like to forget but will always remember.
In unchartered waters, Central Electric took decisive action. Our offices closed in mid-March to walk-in business for our members’ and employees’ safety and health. More than 60% of our employees began working remotely. We postponed the annual membership meeting—the first time in our 79-year history—but con-ducted it via teleconference in early June.
In March, Gov. Kate Brown’s “Stay home, save lives” executive order created a financial hardship for many of our members due to business closures, lost jobs and the resulting economic downturn. CEC was one of the first utilities in the state to suspend service disconnections.
We immediately ramped up our efforts to help members receive financial assistance to pay their electric bills. Thanks to federal aid through the CARES Act and Energy Assistance Stability Coronavirus Relief program combined with a regional organization, NeighborImpact, and CEC’s Project Helping Hand, we helped members receive $215,000 in financial assistance by October’s end. I am proud to report our membership also stepped up to help financially, with a 7% increase in the number of members donating to PHH.
Central Oregon escaped the wildfires mostly unscathed. However, the events further reaffirmed CEC’s ongoing commitment to reduce wildfire threats in its service territory. Those efforts included removing encroaching vegetation and replacing older poles along a 13-mile overhead power line route in heavily forested Camp Sherman.
CEC formalized its comprehensive wildfire mitigation plan, which extensively details programs to adapt our system to evolving fire-related conditions, implementing new technology to detect issues before they arise and enhancing operational practices to mitigation the potential for ignitions.
CEC lent its expertise as a participant in Oregon Public Utilities Commission work-shops to develop and share best practices to reduce wildfire risk. Six years of federal advocacy came to fruition when the U.S. Forest Service issued a new rule to streamline and expedite the permitting process to allow utilities to conduct maintenance and remove vegetation along its rights-of-way on federal land.
While CEC’s office personnel continued to provide quality service while working remotely, the line crews’ fieldwork did not slow down. The region’s significant growth carried over to CEC, and we connected the highest number of new services since 2007.
Implementation of CEC’s Strategic Investment Initiative continued, replacing aged underground cable and power poles, completing upgrades to substations and the transmission system to meet current and future energy needs, and ensuring long-term reliability and safety.
We all have been tested and challenged this year to various degrees. Throughout, CEC and its employees appreciate the privilege of serving you. We wish you happy holidays and best wishes in the new year.