North American electric grid operators are well prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, according to responses to a Level 2 alert issued by the national reliability organization. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation said the alert went to industry on March 10, with a March 20 response deadline. "The vast majority of registered entities indicated that they either have a written pandemic response plan or are in the process of developing one in light of the COVID-19 crisis, an unprecedented event for bulk power system operators in North America," NERC said in a website posting. The responses reflect industry attention to potential vulnerabilities, NERC said, adding that most entities activated their backup control centers, isolated important workers and performed deep cleaning of their facilities.

East Bay Community Energy said it expanded its funding of local efforts to support COVID-19 relief efforts, including a $1.1-million contribution to the 12 communities it serves. It is also organizing an initiative to solicit $1 million during April from its largest customers for a county food bank and Meals on Wheels program. EBCE has also suspended customer collection activities and instituted flexible payment plans; donated $70,000 to local food programs; allocated $300,000 in additional funds to use for community grants; and launched a new COVID-19 response page.

The Salt River Project and Seattle City Light officially joined the Western Energy Imbalance Market effective April 1. The two community-owned utilities serve a total of roughly 1.5 million customers. Other EIM participants include the California Independent System Operator, PacifiCorp, NV Energy, Puget Sound Energy, Portland General Electric, Idaho Power, Powerex and the Balancing Area of Northern California. Combined, these organizations represent 61 percent of the load in the Western Electricity Coordinating Council. Nine more entities are scheduled to join the EIM in 2021 and 2022.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife on March 31 issued an incidental-take permit to the Department of Water Resources for long-term operations of the State Water Project. The permit applies to four species protected by the California Endangered Species Act: delta smelt, longfin smelt, and winter- and spring-run Chinook salmon. Under CESA, DWR is required to obtain an incidental-take permit "to minimize, avoid and fully mitigate impacts to threatened or endangered species as a result of State Water Project operations."

San Diego-based Public Watchdogs on March 31 filed a motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit requesting an immediate halt to decommissioning activities at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and asking that SONGS operator Southern California Edison submit a new plan to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission recognizing that "spent nuclear fuel will be buried at SONGS indefinitely." The NRC rejected a PW petition filed in September requesting it revoke SCE's plan for spent-fuel transfer and storage. "The NRC was thorough in its review," SCE spokesman John Dobken said in a phone call, adding that the commission was right to reject the petition as it had previously and fully considered the issues raised.

The nominal termination date of a deal to sell Northwest Natural Holdings' interest in the Gill Ranch natural gas storage field has been deferred from March 31 to May 15, the company announced March 20. The facility, about 25 miles west of Fresno, was planned to provide about 20 Bcf of underground gas storage for utilities wanting to firm renewables growth in California. But competition from other new storage fields, as well as cheaper shale gas, led the company in 2017 to abandon this segment and move instead into regulated water utilities. The deal, with SENSA Holdings, is for $25 million, plus up to $26.5 million more based on the economic performance of the operation during the first three full storage years following closing of the purchase.

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