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Southern Co. CEO tests positive for COVID-19


Kristi E. Swartz,

ATLANTA — Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning has tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, he said Friday via Twitter.”While never experiencing any symptoms, I recently tested positive for COVID-19. I continue to lead Southern Company as normal under the remote working protocols we began in March,” he said. “I am in sequestration at home, staying away from others & teleworking as I have been. Safety First!”

Fanning, who has helmed Southern for nearly a decade, is one of the most well-known CEOs in the energy industry and is a frequent speaker at industry, economic and policy conferences. He is a former chairman of the Edison Electric Institute and one of three co-chairs of the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, a high-level committee of utility executives and federal security officials.

Fanning announced his diagnosis the same day Georgia shattered the record for the number of coronavirus cases in a single day, amid a resurgence of the virus across the Southeast. State health officials reported a record 4,484 new cases Friday.

What’s more, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms last week issued an ordinance mandating masks or face coverings after a surge in coronavirus cases in the city and statewide. She also rolled back the city’s reopening plans from phase two to phase one, asking restaurants to close their dining rooms and for residents to leave their homes for essential trips only.

Bottoms also announced last week that she and family members were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Fanning lives in Atlanta, also home of energy giant Southern, which operates electric companies in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. A company spokesman told E&E News yesterday that Fanning remains asymptomatic and is still leading Southern.

Company and industry officials and others responded with well-wishes on Twitter.

“Praying for great recovery!” tweeted Sherina Maye Edwards, an energy and utilities regulatory attorney and partner with Chicago-based Quarles & Brady LLP.

“Praying for you @ThomasAFanning Thanks for sharing … hopefully this will encourage others to go out and get tested and do the things that protect us all. Safety First!” tweeted Cordell Carter, regional director for Southern-owned Atlanta Gas Light Co.

“Glad there are no symptoms and hope you get a clean bill of health soon!” tweeted Stephen Stetson, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

Like employees at most major corporations, Southern’s workers who can have been teleworking due to the pandemic. The company has been using its own reopening plan.

Fanning told E&E News in June that office workers, those who can most easily telework, will be the last in the company to return under phase three of the company’s reopening plan. And that won’t likely be until late summer at the earliest, he said (Energywire, June 2).

Georgia was the first state to reopen, followed by neighboring states in the Southeast. The move gave optimism to Fanning and other utility CEOs whose businesses depend heavily on having retail, commercial and industrial operations running.

Stay-at-home orders have provided a boost to residential electricity sales, which will rise during the hot summer. For Southern, roughly 60% of its revenue comes from the summer months.

“If we have some recovery, and that’s the ‘who knows’ part, that will get us back to, I think, a good spot,” Fanning said during the company’s first-quarter earnings call with analysts (Energywire, July 2).

Southern has additional challenges with the pandemic, however, because of its Plant Vogtle nuclear construction project in southeast Georgia. The twin reactor site once boasted roughly 9,000 workers, but the company cut that back to 7,000 in efforts to increase social distancing and reduce absences, among other reasons (Energywire, May 1).

As of last Friday, 346 workers at the site had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Southern’s Georgia Power electric company. Of that number, 75 cases are active. Company officials are waiting on the results for 41 others.



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