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Houston — Power utilities in the forecast path of Hurricane Michael have begun to prepare for what is projected to develop into a Category 3 storm before hitting the Florida Panhandle and Alabama coastal areas Wednesday.

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As of 11 am EDT Monday, the storm was about 50 miles south of the western tip of Cuba and about 140 miles northeast of Cozumel, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, traveling north at 7 mph.

The storm was expected to move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday and make landfall at the Florida Panhandle or west coast of Florida on Wednesday.

Much of the Florida Panhandle is served by Gulf Power, which remains a Southern Company utility until a deal to sell Gulf Power to NextEra Energy closes as early as next year.

In power trading on the Intercontinental Exchange, Into Southern day-ahead was bid in the low $40s Monday morning, down $20 from Friday, and the balance-of-week packages were in the high $30s, as temperatures and loads were expected to be lower compared with last week.

Southern Company, which also owns Alabama Power and Georgia Power in the storm's forecast path, is facilitating communication among its utilities "to tap each other's resources so that we can support each other, depending where the storm goes and its severity, who may need help, etc.," Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said.

NUCLEAR PLANTS

No nuclear plants lie on the Gulf Coast in the forecast landfall path, but Alabama Power, another Southern Company subsidiary, owns the 1,776-MW Joseph M. Farley nuclear plant at Columbia, Alabama, about 100 miles north of Panama City Beach, Florida.

"At this point we are closely monitoring the storm and our crews are on alert and prepared," Sznajderman said in an email Monday. "The Farley team also is watching the storm closely and is prepared. There is no plan at this time to shut down Farley or alter the operation schedule there."

Georgia Power's 1,722-MW Edwin I. Hatch nuclear plant is in Baxley, Georgia, about 190 miles northeast of the Farley plant.

Duke Energy Florida, which serves much of the Florida Gulf Coast, has meteorologists "monitoring weather conditions and the path of Hurricane Michael," Duke Energy spokeswoman Catherine Hope Butler said.

"We are prepared to respond if severe weather situations occur," Butler said in an email Monday. "Line technicians, service crews and other personnel are available throughout our service area and are ready to respond to outages and emergencies, if they occur. As part of our preparation, we are checking equipment, supplies and inventories to ensure we have adequate materials to make repairs and restore power outages."

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

-- Edited by Matt Eversman, newsdesk@spglobal.com