Powering through a pandemic

Great River Energy President and Chief Executive Officer David Saggau continues to lead his team of 800-plus employees through the COVID-19 pandemic. Great River Energy has gone to great lengths to ensure employees are safe and wholesale electricity remains reliable.

The pandemic presented many challenges to Great River Energy, but the company’s performance remains strong. Saggau sat down with Great River News to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Great River Energy.

When did the pandemic first begin affecting Great River Energy?

We began making major changes in early March. There were some big projects planned for the spring, so we quickly prepared plans to keep employees and contractors safe. We previously created pandemic plans in anticipation of H1N1 and SARS and, although those pandemics never affected our operations, they gave us valuable experience as we prepared for COVID-19. We were ahead of the curve when we initially activated our plan in late February.

How have your operations changed during the pandemic?

About half of our employees continue reporting to their work locations, but with new precautions in place. For instance, we have staggered break times, designated entrances and exits, increased cleaning and sanitizing, installed plexiglass shields and adopted social distancing measures. We set up a process for employees to self-report symptoms or contacts with people infected COVID-19. That is going smoothly. Employees who can perform their jobs from home have been doing so since early March. It has been an adjustment, but company performance continues to be strong and our technology is supporting us well. It was an extremely smooth transition.

The way we do our jobs may have changed, but our mission has not. We are still providing reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electricity, but now with an added emphasis on doing it while maintaining our employees’ health and well-being. We have a job to do, and we are going to do what is best for our members regardless of the challenges before us.

What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been fostering a team atmosphere while we are social distancing or working remotely. Employees are finding creative ways to stay in touch, but it is difficult to recreate the collaborative Great River Energy culture when we are not working side by side. Helping ensure employees’ mental well-being while they are working remotely and dealing with the stress of the pandemic has also been challenging.

How have Great River Energy employees responded to the challenges you are facing?

The people who build and maintain the electric system thrive in crisis situations. It’s amazing to watch. Our employees are called to action after storms, during heat waves – at critical times when most people stay home. They have treated the pandemic the same way. They understand how important their work is for our member-owners and the people served by cooperatives. They also know how important it is to keep themselves, their coworkers and their families safe.

Great River Energy is member-owned. How has the board of directors remained engaged in the business?

The board has been incredibly flexible with the changes. We dramatically changed our annual meeting, opting for a small, virtual event. We figured out how to cover complex topics and conduct lively discussions in virtual meetings. The board has taken very consequential actions during the pandemic. They even conducted a strategic planning session, which was a collaborative event we all participated in through our virtual board room.