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Business Observer Thursday, Sep. 29, 2022 2 months ago

Area electric companies share plans of action in face of storm

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Thousands of residents across the region are experiencing power outages as Hurricane Ian moves through the state.

This story was updated at 2:46 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, to include Tampa Electric outage and restoration numbers.

Tampa Electric has begun restoring power to customers affected by Hurricane Ian. 

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, 13% of customers, about 37,000, had their power back. 

The company says the storm knocked down trees and created debris, with Valrico and parts of Polk County getting hit the hardest.

Despite the progress, the company is warning that “customers should be prepared for extended power outages.”

 

This story was updated at 7:54 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, to include updated out numbers from Duke Energy and Tampa Electric.

As the day begins and a clearer pictures of the damage Hurricane Ian wreaked starts to emerge, nearly 275,000 Duke Energy customers in Pasco, Pinellas and Polk Counties remain without power.

The majority of those outages are in Pinellas where 185,517 customers are without power. Just north in Pasco, the number is 20,316.

The company, which has 613,522 customers without power statewide, does not have a timeline for restoration, saying repairs and damage assessment will begins once conditions allow. 

The hardest hit is Polk where more than half of Duke’s customers are without power this morning. The company reports that out of 126,289 customers in the county, 65,491 are without power Thursday morning.

As for Tampa Electric, the company is reporting 294,632 customers are without power. The outages are widespread, stretching from the city out to Polk County.

 

This story was updated at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, to include updated out numbers from Duke Energy.

Duke Energy is reporting more than 82,475 power outages across Pinellas County.

The bulk of outages, about 56,000, are in or near St. Petersburg according to the company’s website.

But the damage is not isolated to Pinellas. The company reports 1,578 people have lost power in and around Pasco County and 2,085 in Polk County.

The numbers are likely to rise as Hurricane Ian moves across the state Wednesday, with Polk in its sights.

This story was updated at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, to include updated outage numbers and a brief update from Florida Power and Light.

With roughly 666,753 power outages reported at 3 p.m. on Wednesday between Florida Power and Light, Tampa Electric Co. and Lee County Electric Cooperative, it's easy to see why FPL is preparing to rebuild after Hurricane Ian has passed through.

The company's CEO and chairman Eric Silagy spoke during a conference on Wednesday at 2 p.m.

"This is a very powerful, catastrophic storm that is going to do significant damage to homes, businesses, infrastructure across southwest Florida," he says. "To put this in perspective, there are sections of our service territory of southwest Florida (that) we will not be able to repair. We're going to have to rebuild." 

He expects the storm surge and wind power combination to create damage to electrical infrastructure that is beyond repair. "I can't stress the difference that makes," Silagy says. "Repairing can be done often in hours or days. Rebuilding can take many days or weeks. We are preparing for that rebuilding effort (by) moving equipment and people as close as we can so as soon as we can get in we will start that effort." 

The storm is expected to cause damage and power outages across the state of Florida even as far as the northeastern part of the state. So while FPL is focused on rebuilding this area's electrical infrastructure, it is also preparing to restore and repair power outages in other areas of the state. 

"We are prepared as a company to address this and get the lights on as quickly and safely as possible. This is what we do: train, drill and prepare for these kind of events."

The company has been securing equipment and materials in preparation for an event like this for several months now. That can include poles, breakers, transformers and wire. In addition, the company has 19,000 people across nearly 30 states deployed throughout Florida to help with recovery efforts. FPL also now has 37 staging, parking and processing sites open. 

FPL is not able to assess the damage until after Hurricane Ian has passed through, but Silagy says once it's safe to do so, that damage will be assessed quickly through workers on the ground as well as the company's drones.

One of FPL's newest drones is a fixed-wing drone named FPLAir One. Silagy says the aircraft has already been deployed to southwest Florida where FPL hopes to fly it Thursday as soon as winds have slowed to capture images and video in real time to assess issues. The drone is controlled by four trained pilots from a mobile command center. The company received FAA approval early Wednesday. 

Then the work for FPL really begins as employees will be working around the clock, even as long as 16-hour shifts. Crews will be rotated so that there are workers available 24 hours each day. 

"The road ahead is going to be challenging. This is not going to be an easy storm to recover from. We will not stop until every last customer is restored." 

Silagy also emphasized safety tips, like staying out of high water, keeping a distance from downed power lines and following generator instructions. 

 

This story was updated at 1:50 p.m. Wednesday with outage numbers across the Business Observer's coverage area.

Between three electric companies —Florida Power and Light, Tampa Electric Co. and Lee County Electric Cooperative — from Hillsborough County down to Collier County, there are more than 221,000 power outages that have been reported so far as of noon Wednesday. 

Florida Light and Power is expected to hold a press conference at 2 p.m. The Business Observer will provide updates as they come in. 

 

This story was updated again at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday to include FPL's plan for tackling restoration efforts before, during and after the storm. 

Florida Power Light has nearly 16,000 employees along with assistance from 27 states in the field helping with restoration efforts. Those efforts have already started in some areas, the release states, as bands of the storm have already started moving through the area. FPL is prepared to continue those efforts until it is no longer safe to do so. 

“We urge our customers to not let their guard down, finalize their preparations, prepare for extended outages and make safety their highest priority,” FPL Chair and CEO Eric Silagy says in the release. “Beyond damaging wind speeds, Hurricane Ian is poised to bring onshore heavy rains, storm surge and flooding, all of which will create dangerous conditions. Hurricane Ian is expected to slow down and even stall after making landfall, creating treacherous conditions for an extended period of time, which could delay restoration efforts. Please stay safe and rest assured knowing that FPL will be working around the clock to restore power.”

FPL plans to use smart grid technology to restore power as conditions worsen. Once the wind speed drops below 35 mph the company will be able to pick up where it left off on restoration efforts and assess the damage, an effort that includes using drones.

The release warns the damage left behind by the storm of the electrical infrastructure could lead to extended repair work or even having to be rebuilt entirely. Other factors like flooding and debris can also hinder restoration efforts. The company is expecting widespread outages. 

To stay ahead of the storm, in a way, FPL has positioned restoration personnel, supplies and equipment in the area so it’s easy to start work as soon as possible. It also prepared 24 staging, parking and processing sites. 

The company has set an ambitious goal of restoring 95% of customers’ power within 24 hours after the storm. 

 

This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday to include the city that may face Tampa Electric’s proactive power cuts and its decision to bring outside help to work on expected power outages. 

As Hurricane Ian draws nearer, electricity companies in the Business Observer coverage area are preparing for the worst. 

Lee County Electric Cooperative, a ​​nonprofit electric distribution in north Fort Myers with almost 210,000 customers in Southwest Florida, released a statement early Tuesday morning regarding the incoming storm. The company cites restorative efforts will be possible due to nearly 400 employees. The normal job responsibilities have been put on hold for the moment. 

LCEC’s restorative plan will tackle essential services like hospitals, traffic signals, shelters and law enforcement first. Power will then be restored to the largest areas of customers. Repairs will be made to the remaining home electrical systems and individual services. 

“LCEC does not disconnect power before a storm; unless directed by government officials,” the statement reads. “The utility lets Mother Nature run her course, and begins to restore power once the area is safe again for our workers.”

Another electricity utility in the area, Florida Power and Light, which services over 12 million people, is expected to make an announcement later Tuesday afternoon. The company is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc., a clean energy company based in Juno Beach. 

In Tampa, Tampa Electric Co. says it may preemptively cut power as early as Wednesday to two major portions of the city’s downtown “to help reduce restoration time.”

The company says the potential shutdown is being done to protect underground equipment from severe damage that could be caused by an expected storm surge. Turning the power off ahead of time, the company says, will make it easier to restore power to the rest of the city later.

The affected areas on the southern tip of downtown include Harbor Island, two Channelside hotels and most of Davis Islands. Both Harbor Island and Davis Islands are large population centers in Tampa. All affected areas are in a mandatory evacuation zone.

Tampa General Hospital will not be affected.

The second proactive outage will affect the western edge of downtown and include the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Holiday Inn, Hillsborough Regional Transit drawbridge and the City Hall Annex.

The power company early Tuesday had announced the potential cuts to the southern side of downtown but added the western side later that afternoon.

A TECO spokeswoman said in an email late Tuesday morning that the company is “evaluating storm surge, along (with) tides and wind speed, to determine whether to move forward.”

“We will make that decision later today.”

Tampa Electric has also been able to get commitments to bring 3,000 additional workers to the city to help restore outages.

The company, in a Tuesday statement, says the workers will include line crews, tree trimmers and damage assessors from 13 states. Crews began arriving Tuesday and will stay outside the hurricane’s path until they can begin to work.

Bringing work crews to town during a storm or emergency is part of a mutual assistance pact Tampa Electric has because of its membership in the Southeastern Electric Exchange, a network of utility companies.

“Hurricane Ian has the potential to cause significant destruction, and we are doing everything we can to prepare for a safe restoration,” Archie Collins, the electric company’s president CEO, says in the statement. “The safety of our customers and employees is our No. 1 priority, and I encourage our customers to prepare for extended power outages.”

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