Government and utility officials are warning Floridians that Hurricane Irma is likely to cause widespread power outages and extensive damage to energy infrastructure that could take weeks to repair.
“Due to the strength and magnitude of Irma, our service area will likely see widespread and substantial destruction that will require crews to literally rebuild parts of our electric system. Restoring power through repairs is measured in days, while rebuilding our electric system could be measured in weeks,” said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) warned of a threat to energy infrastructure on the East Coast, from what is one of the largest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic.
Wilma, the last major hurricane and likely a lesser storm, caused more than three million power outages within FPL’s service territory. Last year Hurricane Matthew knocked out power to more than one million electric customers — although it did not make direct landfall.
Hurricane Irma was the second largest hurricane ever recorded when it made landfall in the Caribbean earlier this week. A category 5 storm at the time, it sustained wind speeds of more than 185 miles per hour, making it second in force to only the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane.
Irma left widespread power outages in its wake throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas and St. John have reported that all customers lost power, according to the EIA. In Puerto Rico more than one million are without power.
Two nuclear plants — Turkey Point and St. Lucie — are being shut down in anticipation of Irma’s arrival. EIA warned that as the storm approaches Florida, high winds, flooding, and storm surge could affect power plants and transmission and distribution lines.
The federal agency maintains an energy disruptions map that is tracking the storm in real time. The map shows key layers of energy infrastructure, including oil refineries, power plants, and major electric transmission lines, and real-time storm information from the National Weather Service.
FPL has mobilized a restoration workforce of more than 11,000 employees and contractors. The utility says it is better prepared than it has been for past storms, following a $3 billion investment in its grid since 2006. Still, FPL warned that no utility is hurricane proof, and customers should expect prolonged, and possibly multiple power outages.
“We have been extremely aggressive with our tree trimming and vegetation-management program each and every year,” said Silagy. “That said, given this will likely be Mother Nature’s first wholesale clearing effort in South Florida in more than a decade, we fully anticipate whole trees located off FPL’s right-of-way and major debris to cause power outages. Following severe weather, crews must cut away trees and large branches that have fallen into power lines, or that are in the way, to find and fix damage safely and as quickly as possible.”
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