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Highlights

Power outages begin to pile up Thursday, may take weeks to restore

More than 30,000 customers out

Path leads into PJM by Tuesday

Houston — As Hurricane Florence's winds and rains accelerated across the Carolinas and Virginia, tens of thousands of people lost power Thursday afternoon, and the forecast path indicated a likelihood of heavy rains across the region when the Category 2 storm lands Thursday night or Friday morning.

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As of about 2 pm EDT, the National Hurricane Center reported the storm center as about 100 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, but the storm's forward progress slowed to about 10 mph from Wednesday's 17 mph.

As of about 3 pm Thursday, more than 30,000 customers were reported without power across the Carolinas and Virginia, including the following:

  • Duke Energy: about 17,000.
  • North Carolina Electric Co-operatives: about 15,000.
  • Dominion Energy: less than 900.
  • South Carolina Electric & Gas: less than 200.

Thursday's forecast path takes the storm's center southwest along the coast before meandering west into South Carolina and Georgia Sunday and moving northeast through the central Appalachian region by Tuesday.

In a media call late Wednesday, Duke Energy's North Carolina President David Fountain said, "This is likely to be a historic storm leaving historic damage in its wake."

An estimated 1 to 3 million Duke customers may be without power, and at least some of them "could be without power for a very long time -- not days, but weeks," Fountain said.

"We will not even be able to get to some areas for several days," Fountain said.

NUCLEAR PLANT SAFE

Storm surge along the coast could reach as high as 13 feet north of Cape Fear and Cape Lookout, North Carolina, and as high as 9 feet at further distances from that region, including the Southport, North Carolina, area where Duke Energy's Brunswick nuclear plant is located.

On Wednesday, the Union of Concerned Scientists questioned the safety of that nuclear plant in light of the expected storm surge, but on Thursday, Duke Energy spokeswoman Mary Kathryn Green expressed confidence in the plant's flood safety.

"The plant is four miles from the shore," Green said in an email. "There would need to be a storm surge of 22 ft. coming from four miles away to be of flooding concern at the plant."

But because of the expectation of hurricane-force winds, Duke on Thursday shut down the Brunswick plant's two units, which have a combined capacity of 1,928 MW.

"Well-trained, experienced operators and other station employees will remain on-site throughout the storm, continuously monitoring both wind and rainfall, as well as plant equipment," Duke said in a media release. "Our operators are skilled at managing events, such as extreme weather, safely shutting down the generating units, and maintaining the units in a safe state until conditions allow for their return to service."

Duke has brought in about 20,000 people to work on the power restoration effort, said company incident commander Howard Fowler on Wednesday, and a news release from the American Public Power Association the Edison Electric Institute and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association said that in all, their members and investor-owned utilities such as Duke have mobilized about 40,000 people from 17 states to respond to the storm.

A PATH INTO PJM

With Thursday's storm's forecast path through next week indicating an impact on the PJM Interconnection, traders bid up on-peak next week packages by about $3.50 -- less than 10% -- on the Intercontinental Exchange at the liquid PJM West Hub, perhaps anticipating the shutdown of some generation assets.

A conservative operations event notice has been issued for PJM's Baltimore Gas & Electric, Dominion, Delmarva Power & Light and Pepco zones due to the storm.

Power demand destruction is likely as the storm causes substantial outages, but Michael Schlacter, founder and president of Weather 2000, an energy consultancy, said the storm may have a more bullish effect for power demand long term.

As the storm "brings in a tropical air mass," it is likely to result in higher temperatures and humidity, Schlacter said Thursday.

"The dehumidifying and air conditioning demand is going to be pretty historic for many states, as far as September goes," Schlacter said.

-- Mark Watson, markham.watson@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Rocco Canonica, newsdesk@spglobal.com