Will Hurricane Ian become the costliest storm in U.S. history? Maybe not
Depending on who’s talking, Hurricane Ian could be the costliest storm in American history, or perhaps nowhere near that bad. High resolution aerial surveillance flights immediately after the storm, combined with computer-aided risk assessment models and analysis of insured property in the storm’s path, suggested that damages might exceed $40 billion, with some projecting the total loss much higher.
Inflation and growing construction costs won’t help. Neither will Florida’s permissive litigation environment.
“A sizable portion of the losses from Ian will be associated with post-event loss amplification and inflationary trends,” said Rajkiran Vojjala, vice president of model development for Risk Management Solutions, Inc. “A combination of high claims volume, additional living expenses related to the massive evacuation efforts, prolonged reconstruction in the worst-affected areas, and the prevalent higher-than-average construction costs will contribute to a significant economic demand surge.”
Vojjala also singled out Florida’s trial-lawyer-friendly environment as a major problem area that will force the total tab into the stratosphere for many insurers.
“We expect the Assignment of Benefits and litigation – despite recent legislative efforts to curb their misuse, to influence the overall loss severity, especially in cases where coverage leakage of water losses onto wind-only policies is likely,” Vojjala said. “All these social inflation factors will lead to complex and lengthy claims settlement processes in this event, amplifying loss adjustment expenses and corresponding claim costs.”
But it’s not all been bad news. At the same time, there are indications that the total number of claims might not be as numerous as initially thought. As we reported last week, two property insurers have already announced that they’ll be able to handle all financial claims from the storm – welcome news in the wake of Florida’s property insurance woes.
Now, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state subsidized residential property insurer, says it expects to receive only about 100,000 claims from Hurricane Ian, a significant decrease from initial projections of nearly a quarter of a million last week. That new, lower estimate comes because Citizens has seen fewer claims than initially expected in areas outside of Ian’s hardest-hit areas in Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota counties.
Citizens has not yet factored the revised claim projection into its projected losses, which are still currently somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion, but should eventually move lower. According to News Service of Florida, Citizens says it is holding off on a new estimate “until we can base it on actual losses.” Citizens said it had received 47,248 claims as of Friday morning.
MEDIA CHECK: Shameless shilling for solar
Last week, environmental activists decided enough time had elapsed since the storm that they could do some shameless rooftop solar energy shilling through the sympathetic environmental reporting of Politico Florida. The link to the subscriber-funded digital news outlet is unfortunately hidden behind a paywall, but don’t worry, we’ll share the most embarrassing stuff here.
First, however, it’s important to recognize what has transpired over the last two and half weeks since Ian made landfall, knocking out power for more than 2.6 million Florida homes and businesses.
The state’s utilities in the impact zone, primarily Florida Power and Light, but also Duke, TECO, Lee County Electric Cooperative and several others, mobilized a collective workforce, many tens of thousands strong, in order to fully restore power to all customers who were affected and capable of receiving power.
Major storms in the past have taken as long as three weeks to restore power for many. In Ian’s case, one of the worst hurricanes in the last two decades, FPL managed to restore power to 80% of their affected population within four days, and all utilities, thanks to robust cooperation, managed to reach full restoration to 2.6 million customers – about 99% of those affected (excluding Sanibel, Captiva and Pine Island) – in just over a week. That level of resiliency only occurs when utilities (including those outside the area that aren’t impacted by the storm) can share resources and help each other out with work crews to trim downed trees, repair or replace damaged and destroyed power poles, and donate replacement infrastructure.
But now along comes Politico Florida, publishing a story entitled “Environmentalists and activists call for reforms after Hurricane Ian,” which accepts the premise that reform is needed in the first place. The story argues not only for “sweeping action in response to climate change,” but also doing more to boost the adoption of consumer grade solar power for the half-baked and wholly concocted purpose of “decentralizing” the grid.
We could spend half a dozen paragraphs explaining all the ways the state’s power grid is already decentralized, not to mention the fact that the state’s largest utility, FPL, didn’t lose a single transmission facility during the storm, because their infrastructure is not only “decentralized” but also storm-hardened. But let’s not lose focus on Politico Florida’s failure to challenge the solar industry narrative about the alleged need for more decentralization. Here’s the key
solar sales pitch excerpt from the story:
“What this really drives home is the urgency with which we all need to embrace a future in which we leverage innovation, distributed technologies to make a grid that is more resilient in the face of climate change,” said Mary Powell, chief executive officer of the Sunrun home solar and battery storage company.
Nowhere in the story does Politico Florida’s reporter, Bruce Ritchie, scratch his head and wonder aloud just how a bunch of expensive solar panels, bolted to the few homes that can actually afford them, “make a grid that is more resilient in the face of climate change.” Nor does the story point out that even homes with consumer grade rooftop solar systems still must to be connected to a functional electric grid for reliable power.
The truth of the matter is that companies like Sunrun Home Solar are pushing for more “decentralization” not because it’s needed or would have helped at all, but because they are a for profit company that needs to sell more solar panels and battery systems. And so, thanks to Politico Florida, readers were spoon-fed a solar industry sales pitch that ignored all of the hard questions about rooftop solar, including roof survivability in hurricane force winds, saltwater storm surge versus lithium ion batteries, power generation levels during multi-day cloudy skies common during hurricanes, and of course, whether or not it’s all worth the expense – with or without government subsidies.
One of the most important things to remember – but sadly left unsaid by Politico Florida – is that residential rooftop solar system owners still desperately need to be connected to the grid if to get regular, reliable power when they need it most. That means Florida’s utility companies must remain strong and financially solvent in order to continue providing reliable, resilient service. Fortunately, Florida has a robust electrical grid and excellent teamwork between utilities when storms hit.