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Utility companies solidify 3-year storm hardening plans

10-year plans on the horizon

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Storm hardening plans for 2019-2021 for Florida’s five major utility companies were approved by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) on Tuesday morning.

“I love the detail that some of the initiatives and some of the utilities covered,” said PSC Commissioner Julie Brown. 

The plans set the short-term goals for undergrounding power lines and reducing outages during storms, but the power companies will soon be required to take a long-term view of storm hardening.

The PSC began requiring the three-year plans in 2006, after Florida took the brunt of eight hurricanes over a two-year period.

Following hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Michael, lawmakers demanded utility companies look further out.

State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, sponsored a bill with that goal, which was signed by the governor in June.

“Every day that we have a third of our state down costs the state a billion dollars a year in lost economic activity,” said Gruters in May.

The new measure is set to take effect later this year. It will require companies to develop a 10-year hardening plan. The focus will be on undergrounding power lines and vegetation management.

“It will hopefully make sure that Florida is ready for these storms in the foreseeable future and that we get people back up and running, power back on earlier,” Gruters said.

Under the new law, utility companies will be able to request rate hikes upfront on an annual basis to cover the cost of grid hardening, instead of having to recover the money after the work has already been done.

How large of an increase customers may see isn’t clear.

“The cost of things like undergrounding and hardening are included in the base rates that customers pay,” said Mark Bubriski, with Florida Power & Light. “How that changes going forward still remains to be seen, but I think that this will enable additional investment for customers, which will have a long-term benefit.”

Before the plans can be submitted, the PSC must go through a rule-making process, which has to be complete by Oct. 31.

The PSC will also be required to report to lawmakers each year on the progress of the utility companies’ hardening efforts.