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Utility companies gear up for Ian power outages

A power tower
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Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that the storm will knock out power in parts of the state.

Florida’s two largest electric utilities have some 22,000 workers ready to address anticipated power outages as massive Hurricane Ian takes aim at the state.

Workers for smaller utilities also are on standby, as winds, rain and flooding are expected to start Tuesday in the Florida Keys and then quickly move up the Gulf Coast.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that the storm, which could make landfall Thursday, will knock out power in parts of the state.

“That’s something that people should expect,” DeSantis said while at the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center in Largo. “And depending on the severity of the storm, you know, those power outages can be lengthy and may not just be one day where you're out of power.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody, who grew up in Plant City and continues to live in the Tampa Bay region, added, “This could be the storm that we have all feared,”

Duke Energy Florida has about 9,000 workers from Florida and other states on standby, including line workers, vegetation-management crews and damage assessors. Resources are coming from Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey and Delaware, Duke spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said in an email.

“Our meteorologists are continuing to track the storm, and we will continue to make adjustments to those resources as the storm approaches,” Gibbs said.

Meanwhile, Florida Power & Light tweeted Monday that “we are mobilizing and pre-positioning our restoration workforce of 13,000 men and women for rapid restoration at locations across the state.”

Tampa Electric Co. and smaller utilities, such as electric cooperatives, also serve areas that could get hit by the storm.

“The manpower is there. The urgency will be there as well,” DeSantis said. “But just prepare yourself that a storm of this magnitude is going to take power out.”

Duke and FPL said system upgrades are expected to help in restoring power.

“While no energy grid is hurricane-proof, since the historic 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, FPL has made significant investments to build a stronger, smarter, more storm-resilient energy grid to deliver electricity our customers can count on in good weather and bad,” FPL Chairman and CEO Eric Silagy said in a prepared statement. “We also proactively clear tree branches, palm fronds and other vegetation from thousands of miles of power lines every year. These investments have benefited customers during past storms, significantly speeding restoration efforts.”

FPL has more than 5.7 million customers, with its territory including parts of coastal Southwest Florida. Duke has an estimated 1.7 million customers, mostly in Central Florida and closer to the northern Gulf Coast.

A Duke news release said the company has invested in grid automation and “self-healing technology” that can detect and reroute power to reduce the number of customers affected by outages, “similar to GPS rerouting traffic around an accident.”

Last year, the state Public Service Commission signed off on about $385 million in costs to customers of FPL, Duke and Tampa Electric Co. for projects aimed at upgrading electric systems to better withstand storms.

The approval came two years after the Legislature passed a measure that created a new avenue for utilities to recoup “storm protection” costs outside of base electric rates. Additional proposals are pending before the commission.

State Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said that while phone companies also have crews on standby, people should have alternative communication plans.

“During previous hurricanes, cell phone towers went down, keeping individuals from being able to call or message loved ones,” Guthrie said.