FPL de­ploy­ing ‘army’ to re­store power to mil­lions

The Palm Beach Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Su­san Sal­is­bury

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.

AN­DRES LEIVA / THE PALM BEACH POST

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.

ALLEN EYESTONE / THE PALM BEACH POST

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.

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