Hurricane Irma: Electric utilities preparing for storm’s arrival
The companies that keep the lights on in Southwest Florida are monitoring Hurricane Irma to be ready to pre-stage crews for the potential clean up to come.
“We are proactively planning like we are going to be impacted,” Lee County Electric Cooperative spokeswoman Karen Ryan said.
LCEC employees were told to prepare their homes and families now in order to be available to restore power if, as seems as increasingly likely, Irma strikes its customers in five counties, including Cape Coral and the Southwest Florida islands as well as eastern Collier.
Having sufficient manpower to restore power after a storm is a critical part of utility preparedness.
“We work with other utilities outside Florida when we believe we need it,” Florida Power and Light spokesman Bill Orlove said. “During Hurricane Matthew we had nearly 15,000 inside and outside crews working the largest restoration effort we’ve had in terms of manpower.”
While neither utility has personnel in Texas helping restore power to hurricane victims there, LCEC contractors currently in the Lone Star state have committed to be available for Irma, Ryan said.
Once Irma’s path through Florida is better known, crews will be stationed in the vulnerable areas to be ready to restore power when the storm has passed.
Restoring power isn’t instant for many reasons. Most of the companies’ infrastructure consists of poles and lines that have to be repaired by crew in lifts and buckets.
Critical resources like hospitals and fire stations get first priority, so if you’re on the same line as those facilities, you benefit. Lines that support the largest numbers of people get restored before lines that may only support one or two homes.
Both companies trim trees around their lines in preparation for hurricane season to reduce the chance of damage. Both also invest in beefing up their poles to withstand greater wind forces.
“After Hurricane Wilma (in 2005) we found a lot of poles came down,,” Orlove said. “It’s easier to restore a power line than rebuild the system, so over we’ve strengthened the poles to make sure they’re still standing when the storm clears.”
Crews can’t necessarily start restoring power immediately after the worst of the storm. For the safety of its personnel in buckets on lifts, FPL requires the wind speed drop to 35 mph or lower, Orlove said.
LCEC field crew do work in tropical force winds, Ryan said.
“It is up to the linemen’s discretion,” Ryan said. “This is what they live for. They will know if it’s safe.”
While it’s tempting clear the yard and put your debris out before a hurricane hits, “Now is not the time to be out trimming trees,” Orlove said. “If you put out debris and it doesn’t get picked up, it can become a hazard.”
Find this and other storm prep advice at www.fpl.com/storm.html.
Follow this reporter on Twitter @PatriciaBorns.