With natural disasters such as storms and wildfires on the minds of the public and their elected officials these days, many are wondering how to best harden our electric system against severe conditions. That was the topic recently of the Energy & Utility Subcommittee of the Florida House of Representatives, which heard from a number of experts and other voices about options to better prepare Florida for hurricanes and tropical storms. The hearing was highlighted in a recent newsletter from Rep. Randy Fine, who represents House District 53 on the east coast of Florida, which includes Palm Bay.
As part of the Energy & Utility Subcommittee’s hearing on the issue, the Florida Public Service Commission had an opportunity to present its 2018 Review of Florida’s Electric Utility Hurricane Preparedness and Restoration Activities, which evaluated data from the 2016-2017 hurricane seasons. The subcommittee also heard from representatives of the electric utility industry who are actively seeking ways to harden infrastructure during hurricanes and tropical storms to ensure that power is restored more quickly following interruptions in service.
During the Florida Public Service Commission’s review, officials found that the length and scope of outages had been reduced significantly by Florida’s aggressive storm hardening, vegetation management, and pole inspection programs when compared to the catastrophic 2004-2005 storm seasons. Representatives from electric utilities also detailed lessons learned from Hurricane Michael in 2018, which affected 15 counties in Florida. Of these 15 counties, 11 reported outages of over 80% and 4 reported outages of 100%. This storm and others have provided crucial data and anecdotal evidence about how to get power on more quickly in the aftermath of major storms.
As Rep. Randy Fine stated in his newsletter, “Having power can be the difference between life and death for our citizens, and I believe effectively responding to disasters such as a hurricane is of paramount importance. In my view, this meeting showed that our hurricane preparedness and response is improving and we must continue to build on our success.”
We agree. As lawmakers and others continue their work to better prepare storm-sensitive regions for storms and other natural disasters, they should keep all options on the table. Whether that means under-grounding power lines, replacing current poles with more storm-resistant options, or building additional grid infrastructure, customers deserve to know their elected officials and power providers are doing everything possible to prepare for the next severe event. All preparation comes with a cost, of course, but the price of doing nothing is always much higher.