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Ala. nuclear plant reduces power ahead of Hurricane Michael


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Ala. nuclear plant reduces power ahead of Hurricane Michael

SNL Image

The Farley nuclear plant in Houston County, Ala., where power has been reduced in anticipation of Hurricane Michael.
Source: AP Images

A nuclear plant owned by Alabama Power Co. on the state border with Florida reduced the output of its reactors before Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm.

Southern Nuclear Operating Co., which runs the 1,751-MW Farley nuclear plant in Houston County, Ala., disclosed just before 11 a.m. ET on Oct. 10 that it took the precautionary measure of decreasing power for units 1 and 2 to prepare for potential storm-related conditions.

"The decision to reduce power in preparation for the storm is a conservative measure, as the safety of our plant, employees and neighbors remains the top priority in everything we do," Farley site Vice President Dennis Madison said in a statement.

The National Hurricane Center announced that Michael made landfall at 1:45 p.m. ET just northwest of Mexico Beach, Fla. Maximum sustained winds of 155 mph were detected, according to the federal forecaster's advisory.

"THIS IS A WORST CASE SCENARIO for the Florida Panhandle!!" the National Weather Service tweeted about two hours before landfall.

A Gulf Power Co. outage map showed nearly 120,000 customers without power as of around 3:30 p.m. ET, with about a quarter of the utility's system down. The Southern Co. subsidiary serves more than 460,000 customers.

Duke Energy Florida LLC estimates Michael could cause between 100,000 to 200,000 outages. An outage map by the Duke Energy Corp. utility showed over 28,200 affected customers.

Florida plants near landfall

Michael's feeder bands passed over Gulf Power's 552-MW Lansing Smith gas plant, located about 40 miles northwest of Mexico Beach, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Two Tallahassee municipal utility gas plants, Purdom and Hopkins, were not in the hurricane's direct path but likely experienced intense weather conditions. Those facilities are just over 100 miles northeast of Mexico Beach.

Workers at Purdom, a 258-MW plant in Wakulla County, Fla., evacuated the complex the night of Oct. 9 due to the threat of storm surge, utility spokeswoman Alison Faris said, while the 330-MW Hopkins site in Leon County was running as usual with around-the-clock staffing.

In preparation for heavy rain, the utility lowered the water level of nearby Lake Talquin by 12 inches to facilitate the continued operation of the 11-MW Corn hydro facility, Faris said. Staff will remain on-site 24 hours a day.

Alabama, Georgia are next

The National Hurricane Center said Michael's eye would move inland across the Florida panhandle during the afternoon of Oct. 10 and across southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia later that night.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a statewide state of emergency Oct. 8.

Farley is not the only Southern nuclear plant in the hurricane's direct path. While the 1,759-MW Hatch site in Appling County, Ga., appears to have been spared for now, the 2,302-MW Vogtle facility in Burke County, Ga., is still in Michael's sights. The system is likely to be downgraded to a tropical storm when it is projected to cross the Georgia-South Carolina border around 7 a.m. ET on Oct. 11.

Vogtle is about 50 miles southeast of that predicted point. Workers there are conducting walk-downs of the site to identify and secure potential hazards that could result from heavy winds, Southern said in a statement.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal increased the number of counties under states of emergency to 108 out of 159, with "the vast majority of the state" to be affected by Michael, he said a press conference. The hurricane could be upgraded to a Category 5, Deal said, but he hopes the storm's intensity will drop as it passes through the state.

"Power loss is going to be one of the huge concerns in terms of trying to get back to normalcy, and it's going to require a lot of cooperation" among investor-owned and municipal utilities, along with electric cooperatives, Deal said.

"We obviously are concerned; it is unlike any storm that we have had in anybody's memory," the governor added. "We are not accustomed to the magnitude of a hurricane such as this hitting in the direction that it is traveling, and the intensity with which it will hit our state. It's not going to be a simple 'walk away from it' with no damage; it's going to be one of serious damage."