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Slow, weakening Hurricane Dorian has US utilities guessing, repositioning

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Slow, weakening Hurricane Dorian has US utilities guessing, repositioning

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Damage in the Bahamas unprecedented

Dorian a 'frustrating storm'

Houston — Utilities operating on the US southeast Atlantic coast on Tuesday began a repositioning of their workforces and equipment in preparation for the weakening and slow moving Hurricane Dorian's projected progress up the Florida coast to Georgia and the Carolinas.

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Some of the country's largest utilities, which have been preparing for Dorian since Thursday and Friday of last week, have been left waiting for a storm which sat over the northern Bahamian islands with Category 5 winds for almost two days, wreaking unprecedented havoc on Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands.

On Monday, the storm began a 1 mph westward crawl toward the Florida coast, but by Tuesday morning Dorian had taken a turn northward, with winds down to 110 mph, dropping the hurricane to a Category 2 system.

One utility spokesman called Dorian "a very frustrating storm."

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CONTINUED FEARS

One new fear, however, is that Dorian could become another Hurricane Florence, which set records for flooding in the Carolinas in mid- to late September 2018.

Florence's roughly 3 mph onshore pace around the Carolinas resulted in 23 inches of rain being dropped in South Carolina and 35 inches in North Carolina over the course of four days. A stalled Hurricane Harvey in late August 2017 dropped over 50 inches of rain on Houston.

Duke Energy Florida said Monday it had nearly 6,5000 workers ready to respond to Dorian in Florida, which, it said, was nearly three times the typical number of crews in the state. Crew resources were staged in safe locations in The Villages area northwest of Orlando, in Davenport southwest of Orlando and in Clearwater near Tampa.

However on Tuesday, Duke said it was moving "an extra 4,000 field personnel from 23 states and Canada" to the Carolinas in anticipation of Dorian making its way up the Eastern Seaboard.

Duke said those crews will complement the 5,000 Duke Energy line workers and tree personnel who already work in the Carolinas - creating a workforce of almost 9,000 personnel.

"We will have a total field workforce of about 9,000 ready to restore outages when the storm moves out of the Carolinas," said Jason Hollifield, Duke Energy's incident commander for the Carolinas. "Our customers should know that once we begin work, we will not stop until restoration is complete."

ST. LUCIE NUCLEAR PLANT REMAINS ONLINE

Florida Power & Light, Florida's largest electric utility, allowed itself a slight sigh of relief, as its service territory in south and south central Florida had been expected to take the brunt of Dorian's wind and rain.

The Juno Beach-based utility subsidiary of NextEra Energy said in a Monday status report it had assembled what it called the largest pre-storm restoration workforce in its history, with about 17,000 people, including FPL employees and workers from other utilities and electrical contracting companies.

FPL said it had pre-staged sleeper trailers with more than 4,000 beds; almost 60 drone teams; thousands of pre-positioned transformers and poles; and 75 fuel trucks able to supply more than 3.5 million gallons of fuel.

It said it had set up more than a dozen staging sites, from the Calder Race Course in Miami-Dade County to north of Jacksonville, so that workers would be in place to restore power as quickly as possible.

Late Tuesday, FPL was not yet ready to provide details on if and where, precisely, workers might be repositioned.

However, according to one spokesman on Tuesday, FPL's St. Lucie nuclear facility - which is located almost 50 miles north of West Palm Beach - has not been shutdown and is operating at 100% of capacity. As of Friday, the West Palm Beach area was considered Dorian's primary target for landfall.

GEORGIA POWER IS 'STAFFED-UP'

Southern Company's Georgia Power utility subsidiary is the state's largest utility and provides coverage to 2.6 million customers in all but four of Georgia's 159 counties.

It serves "more than 250,000 customers" in the current hurricane and tropical storm watch areas along the Georgia coast.

The Atlanta-based utility had not, as of late Tuesday, assigned crews for staging near the coast where a Dorian storm surge is possible.

A spokesman said, however, that Georgia Power has "staffed-up," and restoration crews are being "held back." When needed, Georgia Power is able to rely on help from fellow Southern Company utility subsidiaries Alabama Power and Mississippi Power.

Georgia Power had experience staging roughly 5,000 people near the coast for Hurricane Matthew, which hit the Savannah, Georgia, area in October 2016.

More recently, Hurricane Michael crashed ashore on the Florida Panhandle and pushed inland, causing significant damage to the Albany, Georgia, area in the southwest section of the state. Michael, which left extensive damage in its wake, caused over 1 million power outages that the utility says were restored within roughly five days.

Asked if there is any concern with Dorian traveling inland and impacting the Vogtle nuclear facility roughly 100 miles northwest of Savannah, a spokesman for Georgia Power on Tuesday said a plan is in place for getting Bechtel construction workers on Vogtle reactors 3 and 4 out of the area if Dorian becomes a factor.

SOUTH CAROLINA READIES TOO

On Tuesday afternoon, South Carolina's state-owned Santee Cooper said in a release it has moved to "OpCon2 alert status" and said, "at this point, more than 800 people will be available to help repair damage" to its transmission and distribution systems.

It said there were another 500 people who "will make sure our generating stations are ready."

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

-- Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, newsdesk@spglobal.com