Senators eagerly waiting hard facts on how the power grid stood up to Irma

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Will Hurricane Irma inspire the Legislature to light a fire under the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) efforts to buttress the electric grid against powerful storms?

Likely. But it’s too soon to know what changes might help.

That picture emerged during hearings before Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities: Regulators won’t have digested the data situation in time for opening day in January.

Chairman Aaron Bean put the question directly to Cayce Hinton, the PSC’s director for industry development and market analysis, during a presentation on that agency’s 10-year infrastructure “hardening” efforts.

“How did we do? Cut to the chase. Did it turn out? Did we get our money’s worth?”

The PSC has opened a docket to look into that very question, Hinton replied. This year marked the first time the improvements were really put to the test, he said.

“So we don’t know yet?” Bean said.

“We don’t know yet.”

“From what I’ve seen, there appears to have been some improvement as far as restoration times,” Hinton said. “The utilities, right now they’re the ones who have the stats.”

Representatives of three investor-owned utilities were on hand to brief the committee — Duke Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light, and Tampa Electric Co. Each reported that his company’s response was vigorous, considering the extent of the damage.

Bryan Olnick, VP for distribution operations for Florida Power, for example, said it took 18 days to restore power to all customers following Wilma, but only 10 after Irma. Half the company’s customers saw power restored within one day post-Irma; it took five following Wilma.

More information here.

Following the hearing, Bean said some senators are eager to improve the grid.

“Session’s just around the corner. If we need to move or act, we need to do it sooner than later,” he said.

And if the PSC can’t make recommendations in time?

“I’m going to gently nudge them.”

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.


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