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​We entered 2020 with ambitious plans across the organization and for the communities we serve. While our people were tested by both the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and extreme weather conditions in multiple jurisdictions, they delivered strong results across our footprint. This included improved safety and operational performance, support for customers and community organizations through the pandemic, and consistently reliable utility services at a time when customers needed it the most.​​

EPCOR’s President & CEO, Stuart Lee, reflects on the challenges of 2020 and how Team EPCOR’s shared purpose shone through at a time when our customers and communities needed us most.

​​​Supporting customers through utility bill de​ferrals

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are far reaching, and many individuals and businesses had their incomes disrupted. ​

With this in mind, we moved quickly to ensure that customers had assistance during one of the most challenging times in the pandemic. Working with the Government of Alberta, the City of Edmonton, and others in the utilities sector, we supported the design and launch of a utility bill deferral program — not just for EPCOR customers, but province wide.

Recognizing that customers were vulnerable to both financial hardship and uncertainty, the program allowed any residential and small business customer to defer bill payments for up to 90 days and suspended late fees and disconnections. No application process or evidence of hardship was required — the benefit was offered universally. 

By June 18, 2020, 114,000 of our Alberta customers had opted to defer utility payments. While participants would have until June 2021 to repay their deferred balances, by the end of 2020 a large majority of participants had already done so.

Seamless service through a drama​​​​tic transition 

As part of our ongoing investments in customer service, we implemented a new customer information system to improve how we managed​ accounts and supported customers, all while team members either moved to a work-from-home environment or implemented extensive safety precautions for in-person work. 

Approximately 1,900 of our employees transitioned to working from home — including our customer care team, that handle more than 20,000 calls a month. Backed by a robust business continuity plan and technology infrastructure, the team maintained high service levels even as their work environment changed. 

In the field, some customer-facing programs were temporarily suspended from in-person delivery or transitioned to virtual delivery. But the daily operations, maintenance and construction of utility services continued uninterrupted; we delivered the largest capital program in our history, achieving superior reliability performance, and surpassing every customer satisfaction target set by regulators.

Adapting to a transformed co​​mmunity

With many customers and students working from home, and with businesses struggling with the impacts of public health measures, critical system maintenance and upgrades could not go on as “business as usual.” 

In our electricity business, teams made every effort to limit planned power outages, to mitigate the larger ones, and support customers. This included calling in additional crews, completing more pre-work to limit the outage duration, shifting work to overnight when it could be done safely, and in some cases, providing generators to ensure continuity of service during maintenance work. 

Keeping each other s​afe

Each step of the way, Team EPCOR worked to keep each other safe and healthy and ensure the same for our customers. 

Health protection measures were rolled out across our operations, including capacity restrictions, signage and protection measures, disinfection protocols and supplies, on-site health screening, contact tracing, and extensive educational resources and safe work procedures. As the pandemic continued, increasing attention was placed on providing mental health supports and resources to employees. 

The overall response was guided by EPCOR’s Emergency Coordination Center and Emergency Operations Centers in all business units and regions. Together, we continue to implement and monitor our emergency response and business continuity plans.

Supporting Fort McMurra​y's flood response​

In late April 2020, major flooding overtook Fort McMurray, Alberta. EPCOR’s local team supported the response effort by handling rural water treatment and delivery, as well as flushing the system in the city.

​The pandemic was not the only challenge faced by people in our communities in 2020. In late April, major flooding overtook the northern Alberta community of Fort McMurray, where we provide contract water services to industrial customers. Within a short time, the city’s downtown was seriously impacted. Our own office was completely flooded, with water almost two metres deep.​

To support the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) in its emergency response, we provided local water operators for the community’s rural operations, including water treatment plants and water deliveries. As flood waters receded, members of our Edmonton team arrived with vehicles, tools and de-chlorination equipment, and assisted in flushing systems and restoring services to the community. ​