Utility companies finish storm preparations, await above-average hurricane season

by | May 24, 2021

 

Florida utility companies are wrapping up preparation as they brace for what could be a turbulent storm season.

“NOAA predicted an above-normal 2021 Hurricane Season with up to five major hurricanes and I’m encouraging all Floridians to be prepared,” said Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis in a press release highlighting hurricane preparedness tips.” Before hurricane season begins, it’s imperative that you and your family have a disaster plan in place and your home is adequately protected. Business owners should also work now to ensure your business is prepared to weather and recover from a storm. As we’ve seen in the past, hurricanes can intensify and develop extremely fast, and I want to ensure all Floridians are prepared.”

Following a 2020 hurricane season that broke records with 30 named storms, utility providers are not taking any chances ahead of the 2021 season. Power companies have conducted extensive drills and taken measures to ensure and improve reliability by hardening their electrical systems, upgrading substations, trimming trees and upgrading their poles.

In anticipation for the upcoming hurricane season that starts on June 1, Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) members have been conducting exercises as they prepare for what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasted to be an above-average season, FMEA says the contingency plans implemented will enable the Sunshine State to navigate through the long hurricane season that runs until Nov. 30.

“For Florida’s public power utilities, hurricane preparation is a year-round activity. Right before the season starts, we do conduct hurricane exercises and drills to ensure we are ready for the season ahead and for a potential worst-case scenario,” said Amy Zubaly, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association. “Last year, FMEA members were fortunate that they were not in the direct path of a hurricane, but our lineworkers and restoration crews definitely got lots of practice by helping other neighbors in the Southeast that were hit hard by hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe storms. Our members even had the experience of restoring power following an ice storm. All of these varied circumstances and different challenges have enabled our members’ crews to learn and grow.”

Aside from the yearly upkeep and reinforcing the grid, utilities are implementing new technology and plans ahead of the hurricane season.

For example, Florida Power & Light (FPL) is implementing new drone and “robotic dog” technology that will help safely identify downed power lines to reduce power outages.

Unveiled earlier this month during its annual storm training, FPL showcased the new advancements, detailing how it will help improve power reliability and restoration quickly. The largest drone in FPL’s fleet, the new tech will be able to capture high-quality photos and videos of downed power lines. Meanwhile, the four-legged robot will be able to traverse uneven terrain and access areas that service trucks cannot.

“Since 2006, FPL has invested more than $5 billion, in addition to ongoing maintenance and improvement work, to upgrade the energy grid and enhance reliability for customers. This includes hardening nearly all of main power lines serving critical community facilities and services, such as police and fire stations, hospitals and 911 centers; using drones to safely and quickly assess our system; installing intelligent devices along the energy grid that use advanced technology that helps detect problems and restore service faster if outages occur; and more,” said FPL Spokesperson Marie Bertot.

Duke Energy has also installed new technology to reduce the number and duration of power outages.

Duke, which serves nearly 2 million customers, has been upgrading powerlines with “self-healing” technology that will reroute power – much like a GPS reroutes a driver through a traffic jam – to reduce the number of customer outages during a hurricane.

In 2020, smart, self-healing technology helped to avoid nearly 290,000 extended customer outages in Florida, saving around 18,900,000 outage minutes.

“The concept of self-healing technology [is to] automatically detect the outage, and look for other powerlines that it can reroute power to – and then it works to restore power as quickly as it can automatically,” said Duke Spokesperson Justin Brooks.

Additionally, Tampa Electric (TECO) is also strengthening its grid.

New this year for TECO is their Storm Protection Program, which they say will strengthen their system to better withstand extreme weather. The plan includes converting certain overhead lines to underground, making substations more resilient by raising equipment or building floodwalls, and installing stronger, more storm-resistant poles and improved technology along certain power lines.

In conjunction with utility companies laying the foundation to strengthen Florida’s grid, FMEA will be hosting its annual Hurricane & Storm Preparedness Forum in Kissimmee on June 8. The one-day event will provide presentations on hurricane preparedness and response, mutual aid, FEMA, and other disaster and emergency response related issues, as well as opportunities for Florida public power utilities to share best practices and lessons learned from each other.

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