Seattle City Light remains committed to providing affordable and reliable electric service while prioritizing the safety of our customers and crews. As an essential service provider, we recognize our role in meeting the needs of our communities and we also understand the need for consistency and predictability in meeting service connection commitments.
Several factors combined created significant resource challenges and a growing backlog for new service connections at this time. These factors include a pause in work in response to Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order earlier this year, other COVID-related impacts to our operations staffing model and vacancies, as well as competing priority projects and unplanned essential work.
Depending on the complexity of the project, we estimate timelines for service completion are weeks or even months longer than in the pre-COVID world. We also note that our role is just one of several processes required for customer service connections. The Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections also require certain process steps that can often be linear in their impact to the customer.
Temporary Process Changes
To be transparent and set realistic expectations for our customers seeking new service connections, we are publishing a temporary update to our Connection Timeline (Table 1.3) in City Light’s “Requirements for Electric Service Connection” (RESC), the primary resource for customers initiating service requests. This document outlines the submittal requirements for each type of service, including estimated timelines for each process step along the way. For new requests, we are modifying Table 1.3 – “Estimated Turnaround Times Per Phase of Application Process, Looped Radial” to align with what customers are currently experiencing. Network connections are covered elsewhere and are not being modified at this time.
We will always strive to do better but want to be mindful about setting clear expectations from the start. We expect the modified timelines could be in place throughout 2021; we hope to revert to our-pre-COVID timelines on or before Jan. 1, 2022.
Efforts to Improve
In the near-term, we are building capacity with our staff by attempting to fill line vacancies and adding electrical service representatives. We will also supplement City Light resources with contract resources. We are implementing other operational process improvements to provide more transparency in tracking and reporting on customer-facing engagements and how work is ultimately assigned for construction. Using metrics to help quantify success and data-driven approaches to inform work management and operational decision-making, we will report in Q2 and Q4 with the goal of adjusting to improved connection timeline expectations by the end of 2021, if not sooner.
For long-term improvements to both the customer and employee experience, we have launched a process improvement project to identify gaps and inefficiencies, establish and streamline business processes, provide process visibility and predictability, and deliver timely and reliable service connections and accurate bills. While a multiyear project, we expect to see significant impacts from this effort by year-end 2021.
City Light exists to serve customers and as a public utility, we have an even greater responsibility for ensuring equitable access to services and products for all our customers. One key element to setting priorities is ensuring we are focused on all areas of our community, including those where access to our services may be limited and those where specific programs are providing housing for low-income and homeless populations.
We recognize these delays and extended timelines have cascading impacts on our customers and we sincerely regret the inconvenience we are creating. Our goal is to meet or exceed our customer expectations and it is disappointing when we do not. As we thoughtfully review and improve internal processes seeking long-term benefits, City Light will continue to work with affected customers to schedule final electrical service connections, based on resource and staffing availability.
Reminder: Public-facing counter closures
Earlier this year, in accordance with public health guidance, the City closed its public-facing counters across multiple departments, including Seattle City Light. City Light has closed the public walk-in areas at the North Service Center (1300 N 97th St., Seattle 98103) and South Service Center (3613 Fourth Ave. S., Seattle 98134). Customers may still use payment drop boxes at these locations.