• 9 Investigates: What are power companies doing ahead of hurricane season?

    By: Karla Ray

    Updated:

    ORLANDO, Fla. - Hurricane season is just weeks away, but months after Hurricane Irma knocked out power in parts of nearly every county in the state, 9 Investigates learned nothing has been done to force power companies to make changes to the way they respond after a major storm.

     

    Investigative reporter Karla Ray found out that there haven’t been any forced changes to the way they communicate with customers about power restoration.

     

    Ray traveled to Tallahassee to push for answers.

     

    The Public Service Commission is the agency that regulates power companies, and it’s in the middle of a two-day intensive meeting to go over every detail about what went wrong during Irma and what needs to change. 

     

    But none of that will be decided until after the 2018 hurricane season is underway, leaving many to worry about a repeat of the widespread outages that happened in September 2017.

     

    In the days after Irma, people across Central Florida had the same complaints: lack of power and lack of communication.

     

    “It was a major failure on their system, and nobody’s been held accountable,” Duke Energy customer Jim Summers said.

     

    Summers was among the tens of thousands left without power for days following Hurricane Irma. 9 Investigates found his complaint among hundreds, just from Central Florida, submitted to the Public Service Commission.

     

    “What is the state governing board that regulates all this doing? I sent them a letter, never heard back,” Summers said.

     

    The PSC launched a review docket in October 2017 to force power companies to disclose the steps they took before the storm to expedite recovery and the damage sustained during the storm. 

     

    It’s the first such review in more than a decade, and the information could eventually force rule changes, but nothing will happen until mid-season.

     

    “We do expect that will be teed up in June,” PSC Deputy Executive Director of Technical Staff Mark Futrell said.

     

    9 Investigates asked Futrell why no emergency orders were put into place to force changes after what many customers felt was an abysmal response to Irma statewide.

     

    “Are you going to be cracking down to make sure that doesn’t happen again?” Ray asked.

     

    “One of the things we’re definitely looking at in the hurricane review is the communications between utilities and their customers,” Futrell said.

     

    Florida ratepayers have been pumping money into storm hardening and communications systems through their utility bills since Charley, Frances and Gene slammed into Florida years ago.

     

    FPL reports spending nearly $3 billion to harden its grid, and Duke Energy reports spending $5 billion across Florida and the Carolinas.

     

    JR Kelly represents ratepayers via the Office of Public Counsel.  The public counsel advocates on behalf of Florida's utility consumers before both state and federal regulatory authorities and before the Florida and federal courts.

     

    “Customers have paid you a lot of money. You’ve bragged about how these systems would work. They didn’t work.  Now, what are you going to do in return for the customer?” Kelly said.

     

    He believes the comprehensive review will eventually force changes.

     

    “There has to be some accountability in going forward.  How is the commission going to gauge the performance of the utilities if the communications systems fail again?” Kelly said.

     

    Summers worries that any changes might be too late for this hurricane season.

     

    “Who are they really representing?  Are they representing the people, or are they representing utility companies?” Summers said.

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