Florida utilities say they're in better shape to withstand hurricanes

8:20 PM, May 9, 2012   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida's electrical distribution system is in much better shape to withstand hurricanes compared to five years ago.

That was the message from Florida's major utilities Wednesday as they detailed efforts to shore up their systems since the bad hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005. The companies testified before the Florida Public Service Commission as part of their annual report on storm-hardening their systems.

Jason Cutliffe of Progress Energy said the company is routinely inspecting and replacing equipment, training its workers, and making sure bushes and trees are trimmed back.

Cutliffe said one of the main missions is to replace aging wooden poles with steel or concrete ones.

"We're systematically replacing those with steel and concrete and have since 2006 have replaced somewhere around 10,000 structures in that time."

Michael Sole of Florida Power and Light said the company's hurricane preparedness efforts focus on readiness, restoring and recovery. FPL has more than one million poles in its system and the company has a protocol to inspect and replace them as needed.

Sole said FPL is also moving to replace wooden structures with steel ones.

"We've invested hundreds of millions of dollars in strengthening that system both through the distribution system and our transmission infrastructure as well. One of the things we've also focused on is strengthening those feeder lines to our critical infrastructure facilities: things such as hospitals, police stations so they can be as resilient as possible for a storm and allow us to restore that power quicker."

Following the 2004 - 2005 hurricane seasons, the Florida Legislature directed utilities to report to the commission each year on their storm-hardening efforts.

Tom Ballinger, the Public Service Commission's Engineering Specialist Supervisor, says utilities have made significant progress strengthening their systems in recent years.

"However, I must caution we really haven't been tested like we were in 2004 when several hurricanes hit Florida and, in fact, several utilities were hit two or three times. But I do think with this preparation we'll be better prepared the next time a storm hits."