Here to Help
Miguel Ortega is here for his customers
By Patricia Guadalupe
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the public utility company that provides electric power to the Washington, D.C. area sent a welcome message to its more than 894,000 customers: It was stopping late fees and disconnections, and reconnecting others who had lost service. “We are here to help customers through temporary or extended financial hardship,” read the email. “Our Customer Care representatives will work with residents to help identify assistance programs that can supplement bill payment and can help ensure service remains on after this pandemic.” Since then, the moratorium has been extended several times.
“We did it because it was the right thing to do,” said Miguel Ortega, Vice President of Projects and Contracts at Pepco Holdings, the parent company of Pepco. “In addition to providing food for their families, residents are most worried about losing power to their homes. We know how important it is for our customers to keep their electricity and we want to help to make sure they have service.”
Like many other “essential” services, Pepco has had to rethink how it operates, particularly with jobs that clearly cannot be done remotely. But the company has proved to be a strong partner to the community it serves.
“We haven’t stopped working and we haven’t missed a beat,” Ortega tells LATINO Magazine, “We’re just doing things differently to help customers and make sure everyone is safe. We try now to have crew members drive separately to a location whenever possible, and they are required to wear a mask. Before where we might have a crew working on things in parallel at a worksite, now we do one thing first, then another in the same workspace. We have companies come in and clean between shifts for those coming into the building, for those in the field we have portable wash stations on many sites so workers can wash their hands on a regular basis without needing to go far. And this goes for Pepco contractors too. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of minimizing the risk of contracting the virus while continuing our work.”
Ortega first joined Pepco Holdings in 2016 after several leadership positions at ComEd in Illinois. Both companies are part of the Exelon family. With more than three decades of experience, Ortega is one of the highest-ranking Latinos in the public utility industry. In his current role, he oversees more than $700 million in projects to modernize the energy grid. “There is growing demand and electricity has become more important than ever,” he says.
A first-generation Mexican American born and raised in the Chicago area, Ortega is a graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology, with a degree in Electrical Engineering. It was while at Illinois Tech that he helped found Latinos in Further Education (LIFE), a campus organization that continues to this day in partnership with the Hispanic Alliance of Career Enhancement (HACE), which is dedicated “to the pursuit of excellence in education, personal growth, professional development, and cultural identity,” and to increase the overall number of Latino professionals.
Ortega continues his work to empower the Latino community by serving as executive sponsor of Pepco’s Organization of Latino Employees (OLE), and on the board of directors of the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. A recent networking event, done virtually, brought together 18 local Latino-owned firms to discuss contracting opportunities with Pepco, which has been very proactive in working with Latino and other minority-owned firms. And the company doesn’t just talk the talk. Since 2011, Pepco’s spending with diverse suppliers has grown 65 percent. Last year alone, Pepco spent $185 million with diverse local businesses; of those, 36 percent are Latino-owned companies. Pepco parent company Exelon is also a part of the Billion Dollar Roundtable, a supplier diversity advocacy organization whose members spend $1 billion or more directly with minority and women-owned businesses.
While its on-site internship program is on pause during the pandemic, Pepco continues to participate in the District of Columbia Infrastructure Academy (DCIA), an initiative led by the Department of Employment Services to train, screen, and recruit residents for positions in the infrastructure industry. Through its Pepco Utility Training Program, Pepco is the largest participant. Throughout the pandemic, Pepco has participated in a number of community events, including helping deliver meals to healthcare and other frontline workers. The company also donated $825,000 to relief organizations and the eight employee resource groups, including OLE, collectively raised an additional $85,000 in employee donations and executive match support in an internal fundraising campaign called PHI Cares – COVID-19 Relief Challenge.
Additionally, the company is proposing freezing energy delivery rates for all customers until January 2022. “Pepco is proposing to extend several existing assistance and billing programs and will include several new proposed programs to help the company's residential, small business and nonprofit customers recover from the longer-term impacts of the pandemic,” says a company press release.
One of the key programs Pepco is focusing on when so many are facing financial challenges is the Gift of Energy initiative. Under this program, anyone can purchase credits for Pepco customers – and that includes family, friends, and even local businesses -- that go toward their energy bills. All that is needed is the customer's name and address, or the phone number on the account. It then appears on the recipient's bill as a credit.
“You can buy credit for anyone else, sort of like a gift card, to help pay for their utility bill,” says Ortega.
Like Ortega himself, Pepco is here to help its customers in this time of need.