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Commission Issues New Hurricane Preparedness Recommendations For Florida Electrical Systems

Al Diaz
Miami Herald
Most of the outages caused by Hurricane Irma last year were from flying debris, namely overgrown trees, knocking out above-ground power lines, according to Florida Power & Light.

Florida’s Public Service Commission (FPSC) has new recommendations to improve electrical systems after a hurricane. 

In their new report, “Review of Florida’s Electric Utility Hurricane Preparedness and Restoration Actions 2018,” the FPSC used data collected from past hurricane reviews and identified tree trimming, underground power lines and utility workers as critical areas to hurricane preparedness.

Approximately 62 percent of Florida Power & Light customers in the state were without power during hurricane Irma. "It took an average of a little over two days for most customers to have their power restored," says Deputy Director of FPSC, Mark Futrell.

Among the major recommendations is the need for utility workers to get into a hurricane zone during evacuations and in the immediate aftermath. Others include debris clean-up after the hurricane, tree trimming near power lines and introducing more underground power lines. Futrell joined Sundial to dive deeper into the report’s findings.

WLRN: Why was getting utility workers such an issue during Irma?

Futrell: Irma impacted huge parts of the state -- very populated areas -- and so the evacuations certainly had an impact on road congestion not only for those that were trying to evacuate but for the restoration workers who were coming into the state. What we were pointing out was that there needs to be some consideration in the future to make sure that those "bucket trucks" and workers have got some kind of prioritization to be able to move around the state quickly and efficiently.

What are some of the recommendations you have for handling storm force winds and future hurricanes when it comes to the electric lines?

Certainly, since the 2004 and 2005 storms that were particularly devastating to many customers in the state, the commission directed the utilities to undergo significant and aggressive storm hardening practices. That included inspections of poles and facilities to conduct maintenance and to solve problems. For example, rotted wood poles or weakened facilities get repaired and replacing hardwood poles with concrete and steel are also types of facilities that can withstand hurricane and tropical storm force winds.

We had our reporters Alex Gonzalez and Caitie Switalski investigate the issue of underground power lines. They found that flooding can become a problem, and if the water seeps into those PVC pipes holding those wires that could be problematic. Can underground power lines really be the solution to this problem?

Well, I think it can help make an important contribution but it needs to be looked at carefully and the costs need to be considered carefully. The commission is also very mindful of ensuring that the electric rates customers pay are reasonable. We're seeing the cost differential between underground and overhead are beginning to narrow. We're also seeing the utilities are initiating some innovative new programs to test undergrounding in neighborhood lines that are on street level just to test the economics of underground and also test the issues that are involved in grounding those lines.

What about the issue of tree trimming? How much of that responsibility falls on the residents and how much of it should be taken care of by utility companies?

That was one of the initiatives that the commission directed the utilities to put more focus on coming out of the 2004 and 2005 storms. The utilities certainly are required to conduct regular tree trimming on our cycle. However, those rights of ways are limited and so there can be trees and vegetation outside the right of way where the utility may have some challenges in getting access to and trimming. That's where we're seeing some areas that may need additional focus in dealing with those types of vegetation and trees that are outside the utility's direct control. 

You can read the whole reporthere and below: 

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