- Florida's efforts to harden grid infrastructure against storms are working, though more can be done, according to a report issued by the state's Public Service Commission (PSC) last month.
- More than half the state's residents lost power when Hurricane Irma struck last year, sparking calls for structural improvement and an opportunity to compare utilities' storm response with previous storms.
- The report concludes the length of outages "was reduced markedly" from the 2004-2005 storm season and that hardened infrastructure was performing better. The largest source of outages came from vegetation and trees falling, outside of utility rights of way.
Florida utilities are battling more than just storm damage when it comes to keeping customers happy. While investor-owned utilities have markedly improved their storm response times, the PSC's report concludes consumers' expectations have been set even higher.
"Despite substantial, documented improvement, some customers were dissatisfied with the extent of Hurricane Irma outages and restoration times," the report notes. "Rising customer expectations are that resilience and restoration will have to continually improve."
Utilities have suggested a series of improvements, including undergrounding projects for certain lateral circuits, possible legislation to require inspections and hardening of non-electric utility poles, and "additional coordination and communication regarding vegetation outside of the utilities’ rights of way," the report said.
"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," PSC Deputy Director Mark Futrell said in an interview with Florida radio WLRN. "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."
More than 60% of the state's electric customers lost power at some point during Hurricane Irma, said Futrell.
This is not the first time Florida has taken a tough look at its grid in the wake of storms. In 2006 the PSC ordered electric utilities to improve system resilience. But the state didn't have a major storm in years, making its last two storm seasons, which included Hurricanes Hermine, Matthew, Irma and Nate "the first opportunity to gather performance data," the report notes.
The report directs commission staff to collect information about meetings with local governments regarding "vegetation management, identification of critical facilities, and utility staffing practices at local [Emergency Operations Centers] as part of the Commission’s review of utility storm hardening plans."