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Florida's utilities brace for big hit, prolonged recuperation from Hurricane Dorian

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Florida's utilities brace for big hit, prolonged recuperation from Hurricane Dorian

Highlights

FPL has mobilized 16,000-person restoration workforce

Duke Energy Florida wants 10,000 personnel in place

Houston — From their hurricane command center in West Palm Beach, Florida Power & Light officials said Friday they have activated their emergency response plan for Hurricane Dorian that includes the mobilization of a 16,000-person restoration workforce.

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The regulated utility, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, said the personnel will work from 24 staging sites across its 27,650 square mile service territory.

"We're actively working with other utilities from across the United States to secure additional crews and equipment and pre-positioning resources in advance of the storm's landfall, so we are ready to respond as soon as it is safe to do so," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL.

Silagy said he expects the storm to be "powerful, slow-moving, bringing high winds, torrential rain and storm surge to a large part of our service area."

The restoration effort will be a "labor-intensive task that could be measured in weeks, not days," he said.

Factbox: US Southeast energy sectors gird for arrival of Hurricane Dorian

FPL serves more than 5 million customer accounts, or an estimated 10 million-plus people across the state of Florida.

The utility operates more than 48,000 miles of overhead power lines surrounded by millions of trees.

"Storms are nature's way of clearing debris, and as we saw with Hurricane Irma in 2017, it is likely that Florida's lush landscape will cause outages and restoration challenges," Silagy said.

RIDERS ON THE STORM

It is a regulatory requirement that US nuclear units must shut at least two hours before the projected arrival of hurricane-force winds, defined as those over 74 mph.

On Friday, FPL designated its "storm riders" -- personnel who will operate its St. Lucie nuclear facility prior to the arrival of hurricane winds and remain at the facility during the entirety of the storm.

The 2,213 MW St. Lucie Nuclear Plant in Jensen Beach, roughly 50 miles north of West Palm Beach, will be shut down "gradually" prior to the arrival of hurricane-force winds, a company spokesman said Friday.

The two-reactor facility has weathered three severe hurricanes in the past, including Matthew in September 2016, Hurricane Jeanne in September 2004 and Hurricane Frances in August 2004.

FPL's nuclear generation represents approximately 20% of its total daily generation. When the St. Lucie facility is taken offline, FPL will likely purchase power from other utilities.

A spokesman for the utility said Friday that FPL "coordinates" with other utilities in the state, such as Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric and the Jacksonville-based, city-owned JEA.

The 1,770-MW Turkey Point Nuclear plant located south of Miami in Homestead, Florida, is FPL's other nuclear facility. It is not expected to be impacted by the hurricane.

DUKE ENERGY FLORIDA

Duke Energy Florida storm director Jason Cutliffe said Friday that Hurricane Dorian "poses a significant threat to east-central Florida."

Duke Energy's Florida utility subsidiary, which is based on Florida's west coast in St. Petersburg, has a customer base in Florida of around 1.8 million spread out over 35 counties. However, it has over 750,000 customers located in just five east-central Florida counties that could be in Dorian's direct path.

"We are working to put more than 10,000 personnel in place to support restoration," said Duke Energy Florida spokesperson Ana Gibbs Friday.

"This includes more than 1,500 Florida-based employees and contractors who will be joined by 700 Midwest teammates and 500 Carolinas teammates, as well as more than 7,000 additional resources from other utilities and contract partners to support restoration."

"This morning, we had Duke Energy crews who left from the Midwest," she said.

Duke also encouraged its South and North Carolina electricity customers to prepare for Hurricane Dorian.

HOLDING BREATH OVER SOLAR PANELS

A key question that Hurricane Dorian will help answer is how utility-scale solar PV facilities fare in a hurricane.

Peter Robbins, an FPL spokesperson, said FPL is "expanding solar aggressively." A number of the utility's solar PV facilities are located along the Florida east coast in such counties as Miami Dade, St. Lucie and Brevard, which is located on the so-called Space Coast by NASA's Cape Canaveral.

A number of FPL's solar facilities are also located in south Florida.

Hurricane Irma came ashore at the southern tip of Florida in September 2017 as a Category 4 storm but quickly weakened to a Category 3 as it moved north up the peninsula.

According to Robbins, there were approximately one million solar panels installed along Irma's path, but a "very, very low percentage of the panels were damaged," he said.

How the solar facilities will fare in front of what could be a Category 4 hurricane remains to be seen, but if the outcome is not good, future plans may have to be reconsidered.

In January, FPL announced its groundbreaking "30-by-30" plan to install more than 30 million solar panels by 2030, which, it said, would help make Florida a global leader in solar energy.

FPL's 2018 Site Plan showed a projected cumulative solar total of approximately 4,134 MW by the end of 2027.

-- Jeffrey Ryser, jeffrey.ryser@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Zac Aiuppa, newsdesk@spglobal.com