The two main providers of electricity in West Volusia have been making their annual preparations for hurricane season. And this year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, both Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light have been changing procedures to protect their employees, customers and communities.
“Now more than ever, our customers are depending on us for the essential energy they need to power their homes and workplaces, which in many cases are one and the same,” Harry Sideris, Duke Energy’s senior vice president of customer experience and services, said in a news release. “We recognize that even brief outages in this pandemic are no longer simple inconveniences but disruptions, so it’s important that we, along with our customers, plan now for any impacts a major storm may create.”
“FPL and many of our customers have been through storms together, but this year is like no other,” said FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy in an FPL webpage. “We face the real and daunting prospect of staring down something none of us has ever had to deal with: a hurricane and a global pandemic at the same time. While the circumstances have changed, FPL’s steadfast commitment to restoring power safely and as quickly as possible has not.”
Duke Energy has been making electrical grid improvements that can help to reduce outages and allow the company to more efficiently use crews and equipment after a storm.
For example, crews are burying outage-prone lines, replacing wooden poles in vulnerable areas with metal structures that can withstand stronger winds, and installing self-healing technology that can detect a power outage to reroute power and restore service faster. This technology can reduce the number of customers who lose power by as much as 75 percent and can often restore power in less than a minute, according to the company’s website.
In addition to ongoing maintenance and improvement work, FPL has upgraded its energy grid and enhanced reliability, according to its website.
This includes hardening nearly all main power lines serving critical community facilities and services, such as police and fire stations, hospitals and 911 centers; installing more than 5 million smart meters and more than 120,000 intelligent devices along the energy grid to help detect problems and restore service faster if outages occur; inspecting about 15,000 miles of power lines each year and trimming and removing vegetation to keep lines clear and help prevent outages; and inspecting about 150,000 power poles each year and upgrading or replacing those that no longer meet FPL’s standards for strength.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, both utilities are taking precautions to keep their crews — and the communities in which they are working — safer, according to respective news releases. Both companies are extending physical distances between workers, screening crews before allowing them to work on restorations, and spreading out staging areas to allow for more limited interaction between workers, among other initiatives.