Strengthening The Grid Pays Off In Florida

After assessing the damage of Hurricane Ian, it seems that the $7 billion invested a year on strengthening transmission lines may have paid off. Although the storm surge and high velocity
winds from Hurricane Ian brought an immense amount of damage to power distributors and left many residents without power in their homes and business, power companies were able to take a positive outlook, in regard to their systems, away from the devastation. Large, investor-owned, utility companies in Florida have expressed that their systems withstood the storm far better than expected.

Let me put this strengthening of the transmission lines into perspective for you: as a result of the Category 3 storm in 2005 that hit Florida, better known as Hurricane Wilma, 100 transmission
structures were lost. After that storm the process of strengthening these lines began. During Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 hurricane, not one transmission structure was lost.

In an article published by Katherine Blunt, Mr. Silgay, Florida Power & Light CEO, states that “the company has also been working to strengthen or bury its main distribution lines, with about 40% of the system now underground. During the storm, underground wire performed five to nine times better than those overhead”.

Unfortunately, the damage in certain areas was far worse than others. On islands like Sanibel and Pine Island many of the distribution networks were totally or partially destroyed as a result of
Ian’s destructive path. In particular, an article published by Katherine Blunt sys, “Lee County Electric Cooperative, a small electricity provider serving parts of six southwestern counties, experienced significant damage.”

The efforts that were taken to restore these residents’ power are significant. For example, the bridge connecting Sanibel Island to the mainland of Florida was destroyed, so workers had to be
airlifted to the Island to restore power. It is anticipated that it will take “four weeks to fully restore power to customers on the mainland, and that rebuilding the island systems will likely take
several years longer”, according to Allan Ruth, the Lee County Electric Cooperative Restoration Director.

However, with big upgrades in the power industry comes big costs and these upgrades and their high costs have come with some backlash.The backlash is stemming from inflation and the quick price jump in natural-gas prices that has made it even more expensive for utilities to obtain and purchase power. The Florida Public Service Commission (FPSC) is now trying to determine if the proposed spending is within reason.

But are these pricey upgrades worth it? TECO Chief Executive Archie Collins stated “it would be a matter of days instead of weeks to restore power because it appears the storm spared the power poles and transformers that remain above ground. Much of the system is underground.”

Future Questions to Consider:

Will FPSC allow more spending for upgrades?
○ How soon will they allow more spending?
○ How much spending will they allow?
○ Will there be stipulations on how the money will be used?

How far out is the next hurricane?
○ How far do we go with upgrades?
○ At what point are the upgrades enough?

These are pressing questions that many individuals want the answer to but, unfortunately, only time will tell.
Stay tuned for these answers over the next few years/hurricanes.