FPL deploying ‘army’ to restore power to millions
With millions of people still without power Monday, Florida Power & Light began tackling the biggest outage event in its history, mobilizing an army of 19,500 workers throughout its 35-county territory.
It could be weeks before all the FPL customers left without power by Hurricane Irma have their lights back on. Estimated restoration times are not available yet, FPL CEO and President Eric Silagy said Monday.
It will take an estimated 1 million man hours for FPL’s grid to be put back to normal, and no cost estimate can be calculated until after a damage assessment is completed in the next few days.
“Our customers will be back up as quickly as possible,” Silagy said. “But this is not going to be a two-, three- or four-day restoration.”
People should be prepared for extended outages, Silagy said.
“This is the largest impact we have ever had in the history of the company,” Silagy said.
Silagy said the utility has deployed “what’s effectively an army” to restore power.
“This is a military type of operation,” he said.
“That’s really what it is.”
The company will be using, per day, 200,000 gallons of fuel, 80,000 pounds of ice, 30,000 gallons of water and 50,000 meals for the restoration workers and the teams’ support staff. The 30 staging sites are, in effect, mini-cities.
He said Irma produced more debris than any other hurricane in the company’s history, too.
At 1 p.m. Monday, more than 3.5 million FPL customers were without power, and more than 1 million had been restored.
However, because FPL counts the outage by customer accounts, meaning meters registering a power loss, there are many more people in the dark than the 3.5 million figure suggests.
Since Irma began, about 9 million people in FPL’s territory have experienced a power outage, and statewide, other utilities have reported major losses as well, Silagy said.
“More than half the population of Florida is out of power,” Silagy estimated Monday.
Vegetation and other debris caused many of the outages. Two substations in Miami-Dade County were shut down after construction debris entered the property.
In 2005, Hurricane Wilma cut power to 3.2 million customers, and thousands of poles were toppled and had to be replaced.
But Irma has caused outages throughout the entirety of FPL’s 27,000-square-mile service territory.
Since 2006, FPL has spent close to $3 billion to strengthen its grid, including the addition of close to 5 million smart meters and smart devices. The hardening effort included replacing wood poles with concrete ones, inspecting more than 1 million poles, making the distance between poles shorter and installing flood monitors at substations.
Silagy said if it weren’t for the grid improvements, the damage would have been more extensive and would take longer to repair.
“With this kind of storm, we would be facing a much longer restoration,” Silagy said. “A storm like this is still going to knock out power, but we will have a lot less structural damage.”
Smart grid technology enabled power to be restored remotely to some customers during the storm.
Silagy said he’s concerned about the safety of trucks and crews on the road following reports of motorists headed south driving as fast as 100 mph.
People who evacuated are starting to return to their homes. The state’s largest-ever evacuation will be the largest return ever, and traffic is likely to be a “mess,” Silagy said.
While hundreds and possibly thousands of power lines are down, so far no damage to critical infrastructure has been found, but the assessment has just begun, Silagy said.
Damage in Southwest Florida, where Irma came on shore as a Category 4 storm, could be the worst. Cat 4 winds can snap concrete poles, Silagy said.
Silagy said safety comes first for the crews as they work in hurricane-ravaged neighborhoods around the state.
“This is a business that will kill you if you don’t do it properly,” he said.
Several FPL power plants were taken offline during the storm.
Monday, FPL’s Riviera Beach natural gas-fired plant just south of the Port of Palm Beach was still offline. It was shut down during the storm after intake screens became clogged with grasses and other debris from the Intracoastal Waterway.
Two dive teams were on their way to fix the problem, which should be cleared up within 24 hours.
Despite the Riviera Beach plant being down and two nuclear units at Turkey Point south of Miami and one nuclear unit in St. Lucie County being taken off the grid, FPL officials said they have more than adequate generation power.
During Irma’s slow-moving trek through Florida, flood monitors went off at three substations. One in St. Augustine had also flooded during Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. It is being restored soon.
Manuel “Manny” Miranda, FPL’s senior vice president for power delivery, said because Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties were the first areas Irma affected, they will be the first to be cleaned up and likely the first to be restored.
“We have a lot of work in front of us,” Miranda said.
Palm Beach County employee Brian Mark helps repair a hurricanedamaged traffic light at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Marcinski Road in Jupiter on Monday.
Drivers wait for FPL workers to remove a power line that Hurricane Irma knocked down, blocking State Road 80 to Belle Glade near Palm Beach Aggregates. The road opened at 9 a.m. Monday.