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Electricity demand across the region has decreased as the coronavirus has closed schools and businesses and forced more people to work from home.

PJM Interconnection, which operates the electrical grid that serves 65 million people living in 13 states and the District of Columbia, reports demand on Monday dropped enough to ease pressure on its own staffing.

“This is a pretty unprecedented action we’re taking here in terms of the impact on the society in general, which of course is going to impact the demand for electricity as well,” said Mike Bryson, senior vice president for operations at PJM Interconnection.

Bryson said a typical Monday in spring would mean a demand of about 100,000 megawatts of power. (One megawatt typically powers 800 to 1,000 homes.) But demand on the grid on the first full day of social isolation for the region was just 94,000 megawatts.

The peak electricity pull from the grid has also shifted from about 8 a.m. to an hour later.

Unlike a lot of area companies, PJM had prepared for pandemics and even did dry-runs with their staff working from home.

Handshake-free zone

A sign in the state Capitol in Harrisburg on Monday, March 16, 2020, discourages handshaking as a precaution against the coronavirus and other transmittable diseases. Photo: Ed Mahon / PA Post

“The way we moved pretty rapidly to social distancing and quarantines probably took a lot of people by surprise, but we at least had a good solid foundation to implement some of the things we put in place,” Bryson said.

For example, PJM Interconnection headquarters in Audubon, Pa., has two control rooms where operators can be isolated, and each one is capable of running the grid.

He said the 2003 global SARS outbreak, along with the experience of power disruptions following Hurricane Sandy, led the grid operator to bolster plans to maintain grid reliability in case of disruptions. Most of the company’s 900 workers and contractors are working from home. But roughly 65 to 70 operators and IT specialists need to be on-hand at the headquarters in Montgomery County.

The decrease in energy demand helps with the reduction in staff.

All utilities across the tri-state region have suspended electricity shutoffs due to the coronavirus. Customers who previously experienced suspension of service are urged to contact their power companies.

Atlantic City Electric spokesman Frank Tedesco said the company doesn’t expect any disruptions in service.

“We have essential personnel in the field working every day to keep the lights on for our customers,” Tedesco said. “And we are practicing social distancing as we perform this critical essential service.”

Atlantic City Electric supplies power to about half a million residents in South Jersey. Tedesco urged customers to be vigilant against scams — including any that urge utility payment over the phone or ask for Social Security numbers.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.