TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The state board that regulates electricity in Florida meets next week to determine how much it will cost consumers to harden the state’s electric grid against stronger and more frequent hurricanes.
In 2017, Hurricane Irma knocked out power to 6.5 million Floridians. This year, Ian’s impact was less than half that with just under 3 million power customers affected.
Florida’s utilities have taken steps over the years to harden the grid, burying lines in some places and making modifications in others to ensure the grid can handle hurricane impacts.
Now, the state is updating its plans. It won’t be cheap, and consumers are going to have to pay.
“It’s an expensive push,” Public Service Commissioner Gary Clark said during a meeting earlier this month. “An expensive push at a time when rates have climbed for the last two years.”
At that meeting, the PSC heard proposals from Florida Power and Light, Tampa Electric, and Florida Public Utilities, laying out plans for storm hardening, mainly burying power lines.
Florida requires utilities to file 10-year plans to reduce restoration costs and outage times. It also allows for a separate fee that customers will ultimately pay.
In 2021, the approved cost for Florida’s public utilities came in at around $400 million. This year’s cost will be hashed out later this month.
Dr. Siddharth Parida, Civil Engineering expert at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, says the impact will vary depending on the location.
“Each specific geographic location is different from every other geographic location,” Dr. Parida explained. “The way Daytona Beach gets affected may not be the same way Tampa gets affected.”
Dr. Parida notes Florida isn’t just vulnerable to hurricanes and extreme weather. The high-water table in some places and sandy soil in others means hardening isn’t just difficult; it’s expensive.
“All of these factors go in when you are trying to do a structural assessment,” Parida said.
The PSC will start a series of hearings on Tuesday. That’s when the state will determine how much it will cost to implement the hardening plans.
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