From Sarasota to Stuart, Miami to Merritt Island, you may not think much about the orange signs you see along Florida roadways warning of utility work ahead. However, if a hurricane strikes in the coming months, this seemingly insignificant work could help Florida Power & Light Company better serve its customers in these communities.
“FPL takes hurricane season very seriously and we prepare for it year-round,” says Keith Hardy, FPL’s vice president of Distribution. “We are investing $200 million this year to strengthen our electric grid, replace poles and improve reliable service. This is one of the ways we help prepare the communities we serve.”
Following the unprecedented hurricane seasons of 2004-2005, FPL, under the guidance of the Florida Public Service Commission, embarked on a long-term infrastructure strengthening effort to help communities better respond to severe weather. The work improves FPL’s service reliability throughout the year, but Hardy says its greatest value lies in its potential to help the utility restore power to customers faster after a storm strikes.
“We work closely with the governments, customers and first responders in the 35 counties we serve to identify critical infrastructure – facilities like hospitals, 911 centers, police and fire stations – places that provide for the health and safety of the public,” says Hardy. “We worked to improve the infrastructure around these facilities first, as we know they provide essential services to our communities.”
Since 2006, FPL has strengthened the electric grid serving many of the top critical facilities in the state, and is now expanding its efforts to include important thoroughfares – along with grocery stores, pharmacies and service stations – that can help communities return to “normalcy” faster. In these areas, FPL reinforces existing utility poles with stronger wood or concrete poles, some of which stand 55-feet tall and weigh more than 8,000 pounds. Stronger poles are expected to improve restoration time as setting new poles takes much more time than replacing downed wires.
”We have 280 residents and patients – and that’s a lot of lives to be responsible for,” says Carmen Shell, director of the Morse Geriatric Center in West Palm Beach, one of the critical care facilities FPL services. “Restoring power rapidly is the best thing that can happen because not everything works on a generator.”
Hardy reminds customers that hurricanes are devastating forces of nature, and that in a serious storm there will be power outages, which could be lengthy. He encourages customers to develop plans accordingly.
“While no utility can be storm-proof,” says Hardy, “FPL’s ongoing investments in line strengthening and storm readiness are designed to help limit the impact of storms on the electric system and enable the utility to restore service to customers faster when outages do occur.”