Florida power companies reveal the challenges of restoration after Irma

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As Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) and Florida Power & Light (FPL) engineers restore power to customers following Hurricane Irma, representatives from both companies revealed in exclusive interviews with the Recorder that restoration has been a challenging process.

JEA spokesperson Gerri Boyce, a longtime Florida resident, said she has “never seen anything” like the destruction left behind by Irma.

“I grew up here; I have never seen anything like this,” Boyce said. “The enormity of the trees down, and I'm not talking small trees but large trees and large groups of trees, and flooding. Places that normally don’t flood, we have seen severe flooding.”

Hurricane Irma, a monstrous storm that impacted a majority of the state last weekend, left hundreds of thousands of residents in the dark. According to representatives from both JEA and FPL, downed trees, damaged poles, flooding and debris have made power restoration a difficult task.

“All you have to do is look at the storm," Boyce said. "There was quite a bit of rain, we had trees down and we had historic flooding. All you have to do is drive around JEA's territory, which is Duval County, parts of St. Johns, Nassau and Clay and see the damage. In some areas, it looks like a war zone with all the trees down...I would say high on the list during this storm would be the tree damage and the flooding.”

FPL’s Bill Orlove, who has worked as a spokesperson for the company for five years, said the potency of hurricanes like Irma can knock out power lines and essential equipment.

“The winds come through, hurricane or even tropical storm force winds,” he said. “They blow debris into our lines, tree branches, sometimes trees, other debris. Those bring down not only power lines but also poles and other equipment that are essential to get power up and running.”

Boyce noted that JEA readied its crew members, contractors and mutual teams on the ground in Jacksonville prior to the storm. Each of the company’s 2,000 employees had an assignment in different areas, Boyce revealed, such as community outreach or customer care. As for FPL, Orlove stated that the company reinforced main power lines running through each of the 35 counties it covers.

“We determine what are the top tier critical infrastructure facilities that need to be up and running once the storm passes,” he said.

According to FPL’s St. Johns County fact sheet, the company has hardened 860 main power lines and 83,000 smart devices since 2006. However, despite the precautions taken by both FPL and JEA, Irma still induced widespread power outages throughout Florida.

Consequently, FPL’s spokesperson said he understands why some customers might get frustrated after a prolonged period in the dark.

“We understand how uncomfortable it is during these warm time periods to be without power,” Orlove said. “We know that its inconvenient for a couple of hours, let alone a couple of days. But certainly, Hurricane Irma was an intense storm that created damage and destruction throughout our service area, let alone throughout Florida, and we anticipated that it was going to take time to get everyone's lights back on.”

“We have an army of 21,500 men and women, not only from our staff, but throughout the country and Canada that are here restoring power as safely and quickly as possible,” he added.

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