Official Says 75% of Florida Population Lost Power During Irma

An official with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on September 12 said as many as 15 million people in Florida lost power during Hurricane Irma, and said damage from the storm means “this will be a situation about rebuilding” power infrastructure, rather than repair.”

Christopher Krebs, assistant secretary for Infrastructure Protection with DHS, said at a news conference today that restoring power would be a major priority in Irma’s wake. “Power pretty much drives everything,” he said. Krebs said as many as 15 million people in Florida were without power at some point during the storm, or about 75% of the state’s population.

Eric Silagy, president of CEO of Florida Power & Light (FPL), the state’s largest utility, said as many as 9 million people served by his utility lost power. “We’ve never had that many outages, and I don’t think any utility in the country ever has,” Silagy said at a news conference Monday. “It is by far and away the largest in the history of our company.”

FPL officials said the utility’s two nuclear plants in Florida came through Hurricane Irma with no damage, although FPL says one reactor at its St. Lucie plant on Hutchinson Island remains offline, along with two units at the Turkey Point facility south of Miami.

State officials said more than 5.5 million business and residential customers remained without power early Tuesday. Duke Energy reported more than 500,000 of its Florida customers were without power that morning. TECO, the parent of Tampa Electric, reported about 284,000 customers were without power Tuesday morning in the Tampa/Hillsborough County area.

“Our goal is a safe and efficient restoration,” said Gordon Gillette, CEO and president of Tampa Electric, in a release on Tuesday. “Restoration will take days, but, thankfully, not weeks.”

Utility crews from across the U.S., including some from Canada, are in Florida to assist with power restoration. FPL last week said it would have 15,000 workers available to help restore power; Duke Energy on Tuesday said it has about 8,000 workers restoring power in the state.

Rob Gould, FPL’s vice president and chief communications officer, told media Monday that “operations of the nuclear components [at its two nuclear plants] were not damaged” by Irma, which came ashore as a Category 3 hurricane in the Florida Keys on September 10. Irma made a second landfall Sunday near Naples on Florida’s Gulf Coast with top winds of 110 mph and a reported top gust of 142 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved north across Florida, and its remnants continue to bring heavy rain to areas of the Southeast.

Gould said the utility decided not to take the entire St. Lucie nuclear plant offline as the storm approached after Irma’s track took its toward Florida’s Gulf Coast and away from the state’s Atlantic coast. One reactor at the plant was shut down late Sunday; FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly said Monday an inspection showed an unspecified problem, and “the conservative decision was made to safely shut down Unit 1.” The second unit at the plant remains online.

Silagy on Monday said it might take “multi-weeks” for power to be restored across FPL’s entire system. Said Gould: “A storm of this magnitude and this intensity will require us in many cases to completely rebuild our electric system, particularly on the west coast [of the state].”

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)