Utility companies make preparations as Tropical Storm Idalia threatens Florida power grid

Published on August 29, 2023 by Liz Carey


(Updates paragraph two with information from EEI and PowerOutage.us.)

As Tropical Storm Idalia is expected to strengthen into a hurricane and hit Florida Wednesday, power companies across the South prepared for it to morph into a dangerous major hurricane.

More than 25,000 workers from at least 19 states and the District of Columbia are being strategically prepositioned to respond to any power outages when and where they can, provided it is safe to do so, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) said on Aug. 29. As of 7:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, 130,833 customers were without power along the Gulf Coast of Florida, according to PowerOutage.us.

The National Hurricane Center said the hot waters of the Gulf of Mexico are helping Idalia grow into a major Category 3 hurricane and anticipated it making landfall along Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday. The center predicted high winds as strong at 85 miles per hour and life-threatening storm surge of as much as 15 feet in some areas.

Duke Energy said Tuesday it is preparing to respond to power outages by mobilizing some 4,500 employees including power line technicians, vegetation workers, damage assessors and support personnel. Forecasters say the potential weather impacts may be felt as soon as Tuesday night. In anticipation, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 33 counties in the state, many of which are in Duke’s service area, the company said.

“Duke Energy is actively monitoring Idalia’s path, intensity and timing, and staging resources in safe locations to respond to outages as soon as it’s safe to do so,” Todd Fountain, Duke Energy Florida storm director, said. “As we prepare to respond, it’s important our customers take this storm seriously and ensure their homes and families are prepared.”

The company said it has also pulled in crews from Duke Energy’s Midwest operations, and workers from other utility companies across the state and the Southeast, to assist with damages after the storm passes through. Power restoration will begin, the company said, as soon as the weather allows.

Florida Power and Light (FPL) said Tuesday it was making its final preparations and strategically pre-positioning crews and equipment. The company said it was in the midst of finalizing logistics for staging sites near areas it anticipated being most likely affected as well as coordinating its response with county and state emergency operations centers.

“While Tropical Storm Idalia’s ultimate intensity and forecast track remain uncertain, we are prepared for whatever this system brings our way, and we are ready to meet this challenge,” FPL President and CEO Armando Pimentel. “We will quickly continue working as soon as it is safe to do so and won’t stop until every customer is restored. Please take the time now to ensure you and your family are prepared.”

The Florida Municipal Electric Association said it is preparing for the storm as well.

“We have been and will remain in contact with our 33 member utilities to identify any power restoration needs they might anticipate in advance of impacts from the storm,” the association said in a statement. “At our request this weekend, our national network of mutual aid has been activated. We are working with the American Public Power Association and its network of 2,000 public power utilities across the country to identify personnel and equipment resources that will be ready to assist Florida’s recovery efforts.”

The association said that more than 30 utility companies from Georgia, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Alabama have agreed to provide mutual aid assistance, and will be pre-positioned in Florida so they can enter impacted areas as soon as it is safe.

FMEA said it is also coordinating with the governor’s office and the Florida Division of Emergency Management to be ready if the storm does become a hurricane and the state requires recovery efforts.