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As Nicole nears Florida, power utilities place about 18,000 technicians to restore service


Power, gas prices likely to weaken

Trees in saturated soil may topple poles

Fuel deliveries may be delayed

  • Author
  • Mark Watson    Tyler Godwin    Karen Rivera    Jeff Mower
  • Editor
  • Benjamin Morse
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power Natural Gas Oil

As Tropical Storm Nicole approaches Florida, likely to become a hurricane before landfall, utilities have stationed thousands of technicians in strategic locations to restore service as soon as possible. Power and gas prices are likely to weaken as service disruptions sap demand.

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The storm could also affect deliveries of refined fuels, as the state's Atlantic Coast ports were closed Nov. 9.

As of 1 pm ET Nov. 9, the storm's maximum sustained winds were 70 mph, located near the Bahamas' Great Abaco Island, about 175 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida, traveling west at 12 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

"Some strengthening is expected today, and Nicole is forecast to become a hurricane near the northwestern Bahamas and remain a hurricane when it reaches the east coast of Florida tonight," the National Hurricane Center said Nov. 9. "Nicole is expected to weaken while moving across Florida and the southeastern United States Thursday through Friday, and it is likely to become a post-tropical cyclone by Friday night over the Mid-Atlantic states."

Florida Power & Light serves most of the coastal area in the storm's closest path, but the National Hurricane Center said tropical-storm-force winds – 39 mph to 73 mph – are likely to extend as far as 460 miles away from the storm's center. The NextEra Energy utility has stationed about 13,000 people to help with the restoration efforts, and crews are "already responding to Nicole's outer bands," FPL said in a Nov. 9 news release.

As of 3:45 ET Nov. 9, the FPL outage map showed 46,230 customers without service.

"We urge our customers to avoid the trap of focusing on the centerline of the forecast cone," said FPL Chairman and CEO Eric Silagy. "This is a very large storm with the potential to impact much of our state. ... The next few days will undoubtedly be challenging for those impacted, but I want our customers to know that we will be working around the clock to restore power."

In the wake of Hurricane Ian's massive destruction in late September, Nicole may flood areas with ground already saturated by the previous major hurricane. In combination with high winds, more power poles may be toppled, FPL said.

Nuclear plants ready

FPL spokesman Bill Orlove said Nov. 9 that both of his company's nuclear plants, 2-GW St. Lucie and 1.7-GW Turkey Point, are "100% ready for Tropical Storm Nicole."

FPL has detailed plans to prepare for and respond to storms, which have been executed, Orlove said, although FPL is "not anticipating hurricane-force winds at either facility."

Duke Energy Florida, the state's second-largest investor-owned utility, said has stationed about 5,000 workers cross the state to respond to power outages as they occur. Utility workers from Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia have joined with Duke employees of its utilities in the Carolinas, Kentucky and Ohio, Duke said.

As of 3:45 ET Nov. 9, the Duke Energy Florida outage map showed 3,801 customers without service.

"We anticipate this storm will bring strong winds and heavy rain over many parts of our Florida service territory, including areas still recovering from Hurricane Ian," said Todd Fountain, Duke Energy Florida storm director. "Crews and resources are being staged in safe locations throughout the state to respond to outages as soon as it's safe to do so. We will continue to adjust those resources as the storm approaches, and we urge customers to continue following the instructions and warnings of emergency management officials in your area."

Energy market impact

Florida power and natural gas prices have weakened this week as Nicole formed and started approaching the Sunshine State. S&P Global Commodity Insights assessed Florida power day-ahead on-peak bilateral power at $52.75/MWh for delivery Nov. 9, down $2 from Nov. 8's $54.75/MWh and down $2.50 from the previous Wednesday's $55.25.

S&P Global had not yet assessed Florida power for Nov. 10, and the Intercontinental Exchange had no trading on the location by 4 pm ET Nov. 9.

Florida Gas Transmission Zone 3 spot gas traded around $3.165/MMBtu on Nov. 9 for Nov. 10 flows, down about 52 cents on the day and down $1.445, 31.3%, from the previous Thursday's $4.61/MMBtu, according to S&P Global price data.

Power demand has also weakened. Power use in the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's Florida Reliability Coordinating Council, was forecast to average less than 25.2 GW on Nov. 9, down 3.4 GW, 11.8%, from Nov. 8's 28.5 GW and down almost 8 GW or 24% from the previous Wednesday.

FRCC is NERC's bulk power system reliability entity for all of Florida except the Panhandle, which is in another region.

Refined product impact

With no refineries in-state, Florida depends on waterborne gasoline and diesel to meet demand, which could be affected by the Nov. 9 closing of Atlantic Coast ports.

In October, roughly 1.55 million barrels of refined products were shipped by water into Florida, not including barges, specifically into Port Everglades and Port Canaveral on the East Coast, according to Kpler vessel tracking software.

Hurricane Ian caused widespread power outages in Florida, causing retail gasoline station outages in early October.

Ian also temporarily closed Kinder Morgan's 110-mile Central Florida Pipeline system, which ships gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to Orlando from Tampa.