From Scott Carlberg

Halfway through 2020 and the year is nothing if not unusual. True for the world and also for energy. This Energy Consumers Weekend will look at the changes and a constant in energy.

The boom busted early in 2020, across the board. People sequestered themselves. Businesses shut down. The economy sank. Old rules of business disappeared.

And the utility industry had to adapt. Still adapting. The lights stayed on even under this pressure, utilities provided a moratorium on bills, and power companies are reckoning how to manage.

Strong companies, those with adequate financial flexibility, a positive corporate culture, and customer trust will make the best of a difficult situation. Not easy to do, but doable. Companies without these attributes could have a tougher time.

Despite the changes there is one constant for utilities. The employees who reflect companies’ values. We have two examples that meet the challenges of this difficult world. One is about the pandemic. The other is about diversity in the workplace.

ECC got this example from Dominion Energy in South Carolina: Sisters Work Together to Connect Coronavirus Patients With Loved Ones. This speaks volumes about corporate character.

New restrictions on hospital visits to help prevent spread of the coronavirus didn’t stop two Columbia-area sisters from doing what they could to safely connect patients with family.

Dianna Smith, a marketing and communications employee at Dominion Energy South Carolina, learned from her sister, Sarah Clement, a critical care nurse at Prisma Health Hospital, that the hospital staff had been using their personal devices for patients to communicate with loved ones. “We would place our phones in plastic baggies and attempt to FaceTime our patients’ family through the haze of the bag so they could see and communicate with them,” Clement said.

The staff quickly realized the phones weren’t an ideal long-term solution. They knew they needed something larger: iPads. “Having an iPad for them to use would not only boost the morale of the patient, it would help families be more engaged in the treatment process and actually be able to ‘round’ with the doctors,” Smith said.

A simple email from Smith asking her Dominion Energy co-workers to donate iPads quickly grew into a larger effort by the company to donate the devices to Prisma Health. And it made a big difference.

Robert “Bob” Barnwell, a patient on Clement’s unit, was one of the recipients of a donated iPad. His wife of nearly 50 years, Hilda Barnwell, said being able to see her husband during his treatment was a blessing.

After spending nearly seven weeks in the hospital he was discharged. Hilda Barnwell is thankful to all the health care workers who worked tirelessly to help her husband come home and the community partners who helped her connect with her husband during his hospital stay. “All the businesses like Dominion, and all those that have done things for the families have just been amazing, and I’m so thankful,” she said.

Here’s another. ECC provides this summary but you can read the big story on Duke Energy’s website, Illumination.

When Elizabeth Escobar-Fernandes moved to Charlotte from Colombia to be near her father, she barely spoke English. And though she was six months away from obtaining her degree in electronic engineering, she had trouble getting a job.

There was a language barrier, her degree wasn’t from a U.S. institution, and she didn’t have any connections to back her up. “I want to help as many people as possible to find jobs,” Escobar-Fernandes said.

Today she’s a software engineering manager at the Duke Energy Innovation Center. She has worked with a virtual reality team that won a Nuclear Energy Institute Top Innovative Practice award for developing a workforce development VR game. She’s an entrepreneur connecting the Hispanic community with jobs.

So, what changed? People helped her – and she worked hard. She waitressed at a hotel where she taught herself English with the help of two co-workers. She completed her computer engineering degree at UNC Charlotte.

Elizabeth built a mobile-friendly, Spanish website called Hay Trabajo, which translates to “there’s work.” Launched in December 2018, the website functions in two ways. Charlotte-area businesses, including some Hispanic, pay to post job descriptions, which are translated into Spanish. (Nonprofit partners get free placement.) At the same time, Hispanic job-seekers fill out applications for free or create a profile with their resume for future opportunities. Escobar-Fernandes shares that information with the employers directly or by translating that application through the employers’ websites.

Bottom line: People have been landing jobs in various industries through this website. That builds community.

After COVID-19, Hay Trabajo staff plans to host a resume-writing workshop and career fair in partnership with the Duke Energy Latinos Energizing Diversity employee resource group and a library branch.

“It really takes a lot of hard work to not give up, and to try to find better opportunities,” she said.

Her advice: “Keep working on your dreams.”


Utilities are about wires and power plants, and a lot more. 2020 has forced changes in some activities, but these stories show employees reflecting the values of their workplaces. These employees show how their community is much like family when everything works as it should.

After the first six months of 2020, having that kind of community and family is pretty nice.