The infamous hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 that left millions without power thrust Florida’s electric utilities into a new era. Florida Power & Light Co. and the state’s other four investor-owned electric utilities had to begin providing storm preparedness plans to state regulators every three years.
On Thursday, the Florida Public Service Commission approved the 2013-2015 storm hardening initiatives designed to protect consumers against widespread storm outages and speed up restoration. In addition to Juno Beach-based FPL, plans for Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co., Florida Public Utilities and Gulf Power Co. were approved.
Under FPL’s 2013-2015 electric infrastructure storm hardening plan, the company expects to invest in the range of $428 million to $646 million. Because FPL is operating under a four-year rate agreement, the costs will not impact customers’ bills until 2017, said Manny Miranda, FPL’s vice president of power delivery.
It will be up to regulators to decide how customers will pay for the costs, Miranda said.
The $1.07 a month storm charge on the bills now is used to pay back the storm-recovery bonds issued after the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 resulted in approximately $1.7 billion in restoration costs. Repayment is expected to be completed by 2019, said FPL spokeswoman Marci Grossman.
“Hurricanes are really powerful forces of nature and no electric system is really immune from outages,” Miranda said. “Our investments in storm hardening will help to prevent outages as well as to mitigate the amount of damages we would expect.”
In 2006 the PSC ordered FPL and others to inspect all utility poles over an eight-year period and all transmission lines and structures over a six-year period. Trees and vegetation along major power lines need to be cleared once every three years.
Since then, FPL has invested more than $1 billion to upgrade the electric system against severe weather. Miranda said the facilities that have been hardened have shown a 40 percent improvement in daily reliability.
By the end of this year the company will have completed inspecting 1.1 million poles. Then the process starts over. Between 2007 and 2012, FPL replaced more than 4,000 wood transmission structures with stronger concrete structures and upgraded more than 3,600 ceramic post insulators with resilient polymer.
Especially crucial has been strengthening the infrastructure serving hundreds of critical facilities such as hospitals, police and fire stations and grocery stores. FPL plans to strengthen poles and equipment serving an additional 250 to 370 critical facilities through 2015.
Earlier this year, FPL announced it was accelerating hardening efforts that would have been completed by 2023, and plans to have them done by 2016. The impact of flooding and other lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy have been incorporated to include improvements such as water-level monitoring systems at 25 substations that are more prone to damage.
“We are very fortunate this hurricane season, and happy about that. We all know it is just a matter of time, and when and where a storm is going to hit,” Miranda said.
FPL’s 2013 Palm Beach County Storm Plan
This year FPL did the following in Palm Beach County:
Inspected roughly 8,000 utility poles for strength
Cleared tree limbs and vegetation from 2,000 miles of power lines
Examined more than 199 main power lines with infrared technology
Upgraded 16 main power lines serving key thoroughfares, grocery stores and more
Source: Florida Power & Light Co.