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Gas and Power Factbox: May Take 'Weeks, if not Longer' to Rebuild Grid Post-Irma: FPL

Houston (Platts)--8 Sep 2017 355 pm EDT/1955 GMT

As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida with maximum sustained winds near 150 mph, its governor advised all families to prepare to evacuate and a utility spokesman said Friday that despite system-hardening efforts, service restoration is likely to take weeks, rather than days.

About the Storm

As of 11 am EDT Friday, the storm's eye was about 270 miles east of Caibarien, on the central Cuban coast, and about 405 miles southeast of Miami, the US National Hurricane Center reported. The storm is moving west-northwest at about 14 mph and is expected to continue "for the next day or so with a decrease in forward speed," the NHC said.

"On the forecast track, the eye of Irma should move near the north coast of Cuba and the central Bahamas today and Saturday, and be near the Florida Keys and the southern Florida Peninsula Sunday morning," the NHC said.

Storm surge warnings are in effect for the Florida Keys plus essentially the southern half of Florida's Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

If storm surges coincide with high tides, they might achieve heights above ground of 3 to 12 feet along the southern two-thirds of the peninsula's coast, with lower surges at the northern end, the NHC said.

A hurricane warning is in effect for essentially the Florida Keys and southern third of the Florida Peninsula. A hurricane watch is in effect generally for the middle third of the Florida Peninsula.

The storm is also likely to bring substantial rains to Florida through Tuesday night, including the following:

  • 4 to 8 inches in western Florida and the western Florida Keys
  • 8 to 16 inches for the remainder of Florida's Atlantic Coast
  • 10 to 20 inches in southeast Florida and the eastern Florida Keys

"In all areas this rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods and, in some areas, mudslides," the NHC said.

During a press conference Friday, Governor Rick Scott compared Irma with 1994's Hurricane Andrew, which caused $25.3 billion in damage to Florida, the costliest hurricane in its history.

"Irma is more devastating on its current path," Scott said. "All Floridians should be prepared to evacuate. ... This is a catastrophic storm that this state has never seen before."


Expected Effects on Grid

As Hurricane Irma passed near Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm Thursday with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reported more than 1 million customers without power, about two-thirds of the total, according to the latest US Department of Energy hurricane update, issued at 4 pm EDT Thursday. All customers in the US Virgin Islands and St. Croix were without power as of 11 am EDT Thursday, the DOE said.

A spokesman for Florida Power & Light, which serves almost all of Florida's Atlantic Coast and about half of its Gulf Coast, said during a press conference Friday that it has about 11,000 restoration workers on hand and strategically placed to handle the storm, and more are likely to arrive as the storm approaches.

"What is unique about this storm is the track," said Rob Gould, FPL vice president and chief communications officer. "We have heard that we are not going to get a good fix on the track of the storm until, most likely, tomorrow or later."

Therefore, other utilities may be retaining their own repair crews in case Irma hits their areas, Gould said.

Since Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma inflicted serious damage on Florida in 2005, FPL has invested about $3 billion to make the system more resilient, Gould said.

"It's a much stronger, smarter, more resilient grid," Gould said.

FPL also learned from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 that if a substation is under threat for flooding, it is more likely to be restored to service, rather than replaced, if it is turned off before flooding, Gould said.

But Gould described Irma as "a hurricane unlike anything we have ever seen approaching the continental US."

"There's just simply no way to hurricane-proof an electric system," Gould said. "Many of our customers will experience power outages. Should the storm stay on its current path ... there may be situations where we will physically have to rebuild, not restore, the power system."

Restoring a power system typically takes hours or days, Gould said.

"In this instance, where you are talking about rebuilding, you could very easily be talking about weeks, if not longer to rebuild an entire electric system, if that is what we see happening and Irma's worst fears are realized," Gould said. "There are going to be customers that we can't restore power to, because there's nothing to restore power to, [such as] if a home is destroyed or if a home is in such condition that it is uninhabitable."

Nuclear Plants Plans

FPL operates its two-unit Turkey Point station in Homestead, just south of Miami, and its two-unit St. Lucie plant in Jensen Beach near Port St. Lucie. The four units have a combined capacity of 3,983 MW.

"Those two structures are among the strongest in America and arguably in the world, the way they are constructed, particularly with concrete and reinforced steel," Gould said. "They are elevated well above sea level to protect against flooding and storm surge, and we have made improvements, post-Fukushima, learning from those lessons to make sure those plants have been further strengthened."

FPL must shut its four coastal Florida nuclear units well before hurricane-force winds arrive, Gould said, and the DOE said Thursday the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects Turkey Point to shut Friday evening and St. Lucie to go offline about 12 hours later, depending on the storm track.

"Once we shut down the nuclear plants, we keep them offline until it's safe to bring them back online," Gould said. "We also have to make sure evacuation routes ... are clear."

Offshore Gulf of Mexico

* BP said Thursday it was securing offshore facilities and evacuating nonessential personnel from its Thunder Horse platform located about 150 miles southeast of Louisiana, in advance of Hurricane Irma.

While production from the platform is not currently shut in, Platts Analytics' Bentek Energy said its natural gas production sample for the Mississippi Offshore would be affected were that to occur.

Thunder Horse delivers its gas production to the Okeanos gathering system. Destin pipeline interconnects with Okeanos and currently reports receipts, as part of the Mississippi Offshore production sample, from the Thunder Horse, Na Kika and Thunder Hawk platforms collectively.

These volumes were near recent averages, at 285 MMcf/d for gas day 8, compared with the previous 30-day average of 310 MMcf/d. If evacuation of remaining personnel becomes necessary and production is shut-in, the Mississippi Offshore production sample would be below recent averages, at least until the shut-in is lifted, Platts Analytics said.

* Because of the small amount of oil- and gas-production infrastructure operating in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has not reported any significant shut-ins of Gulf oil or gas platforms as a result of Irma, spokeswoman Karla Marshall said.

Offshore Natural Gas Infrastructure

* No natural gas intrastate or utility companies have announced plans to shut-in service in advance of the storm, although many operators were setting up rapid-response stations close to valves and other vulnerable infrastructure in the state, Rick Moses, bureau chief for safety at the Florida Public Service Commission, said in Thursday.

Moses, whose duties include inspection of the state's intrastate pipeline system, said facility operators have initiated their emergency response plans to be able to react quickly to repair any storm-related damage.

Natural Gas Utilities

* In a statement, gas distribution company TECO Peoples Gas, which serves about 365,000 customers across a number of Florida counties, said its officials continue to track Hurricane Irma, and the company is prepared for any natural gas emergencies created by the hurricane or its aftermath.

Peoples Gas advised its Florida customers to leave their gas service on, even in the event of an evacuation. Customers are urged not to attempt to turn gas off at their meters.

"The best and safest action for our customers is to follow emergency guidelines issued by the State Emergency Response Team," Peoples Gas President T.J. Szelistowski said in a statement.

* Florida City Gas "is closely monitoring the unpredictable path of Hurricane Irma and how it may affect customers," the company said in a statement.

"The company's crews are prepared for the storm, if it makes landfall," the utility said. "Florida City Gas is strategically situating its personnel throughout the service areas, so that they can respond quickly to emergencies as they arise."

Florida City Gas serves about 108,000 residential and commercial gas customers, principally along the Atlantic Coast.

Interstate Pipelines

* Gulfstream Natural Gas System employees "have been working diligently making necessary preparations for the storm," Christopher Stockton, spokesman for parent company Williams, said in a statement.

Preparations include removing or securing loose items at facilities, stockpiling fuel and testing generators and satellite communications. The pipeline system that serves central and southern Florida is prepared to operate its compressor facilities remotely and therefore is not anticipating any operational impacts, he said.

"We've also been coordinating closely with our customers to make preparations to ensure their needs are met during the storm. The majority of Gulfstream's supply is provided by onshore shale gas, which is not anticipated to be interrupted by the storm," Stockton said.

* Sabal Trail Transmission has enacted its emergency plan and protocols, Andrea Grover, a spokeswoman for parent company Enbridge said in a statement.

"We will continue to actively monitor the storm to determine further actions as needed. Our focus is on the safety of our employees and the safe operations of our pipeline facilities," she said, adding that Sabal Trail gas operations are currently meeting customer deliveries.

Sabal Trail is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Partners, NextEra Energy and Duke Energy.


Related Gas & Power Factboxes:

Natural Gas Factbox: Production Back to Near Pre-Harvey Levels - 5 Sep 2017

Power Factbox: Utilities' Power Restoration Progresses After Harvey - 5 Sep 2017

Gas Factbox: Production Rises, Demand Remains Down - 30 Aug 2017

Power Factbox: Harvey Boosting East Texas, La. Outages - 30 Aug 2017