RIVERA BEACH (CBSMiami) – Florida Power & Light expecting 4.1 million customers to be affected by power outages during Hurricane Irma. That’s about 9 million people.
“That would be unprecedented for us and probably any utility,” said FPL CEO Eric Silagy Friday.
Silagy held a news conference to update its customers that they are working non-stop ahead of, during, and after the storm.
“I want to reassure our customers that we are prepared for Hurricane Irma.”
FPL is the third-largest electric utility in the U.S. and serves nearly 10 million people in the southern half of Florida. Silagy says they are ready.
“We currently have an army, frankly, of 13,500 restoration workers, both FPL crews and outside crews ready to respond as soon as it’s safe to do so. Many of the linemen are coming from across the country including from as far away as California. We have prepositioned equipment and people getting ready to fight the aftermath of Irma.”
But he added, they won’t put any workers in jeopardy.
“Unfortunately, there will be a period of time where we will have to hunker down and wait. We have to wait until the winds subside to 40mph to get on the road, 35mph to get buckets in the air.”
While FPL will be working around the clock, this is likely to be a multi-week restoration.
“With these kinds of winds, we are not looking at restoration but actually rebuilding. These kinds of winds can bend metal poles. We are going to see a lot of damage. We are going to see a lot of debris that will unfortunately impact the system and we are going to have to do a lot of cleanup.”
The restoration “will start as soon as we can get out safely on the roads.” He added, “We will not stop until the lights are back on for every single customer.”
Silagy believes thousands of miles of power lines will be impacted. And while 40-percent of power lines are now underground, those underground lines can be impacted by storm surge and flooding.
FPL spokeswoman Marie Bertot addressed rumors going around that they were going to be shutting power down before the storm arrives.
“FPL has one of the smartest, strongest grids in the country. We’re going to keep operating that grid before the storm and during the storm. So it’s not true,” she said. “We’re going to continue operating until the storm no longer allows us to do so and then we are going to restore power.”
They do plan to shutdown Florida’s two nuclear power plants, Turkey Point near Homestead and St. Lucie nuclear power plant before the storm.
“We will shut those plants down 24 hours before the onset of winds reaching category 1 and only restart after the winds have passed and the storm has passed,” said Silagy.
He’s confident in Turkey Point’s structural integrity.
“Turkey Point actually had a direct impact hit by Hurricane Andrew, a category 5, and suffered no damage to its nuclear facilities,” Silagy stated.
Bertot said in addition to Turkey Point they have several natural gas plants that supply South Florida with power.
“We don’t turn those off. We continue to generate power during the storm. Now if we have any damage to a plant it’s prioritized. It’s the first thing that we fix,” she said.
Andrew did, however, cause $90 million in damage to surrounding buildings. The storm left the power plant on backup generators and officials had to cool down the nuclear reactors after shutting the plant down completely. Nuclear reactors must be cooled after they are shut down, otherwise a meltdown can occur, which can lead to hydrogen-air explosions and the escape of radioactive material.
Turkey Point’s reactors are protected by six feet of steel-reinforced concrete and sit 20 feet about sea level. Turkey Point has backup generators and extra fuel. The St. Lucie plant is equally protected.
“We will not take any chances and those plants will be secured,” said Silagy.
Once the nuclear plants are shutdown, other non-nuclear plants, fossil and natural gas, are expected to generate enough to power to make up for losses unless they are severely damaged by the storm.
FP&L said it invested about $3 billion to fortify its electrical grid in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana.
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