TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott and electric utilities say they are poised for a quick response to Hurricane Michael, which could put some areas in the dark for more than a week.
As rains from the powerful storm started to reach the Panhandle on Tuesday afternoon, about 15,000 workers lined up by Gulf Power, Duke Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light and public utilities were positioned to respond to anticipated widespread outages.
The companies and the Florida Municipal Electric Association also reported having at least 2,000 more workers from companies throughout the South and as far away as Texas, Nebraska and Indiana.
“We train year-round for these types of scenarios,” Gulf Power spokesman Gordon Paulus said in a statement. “That training and developing of skills has really paid off in helping us quickly and safely get our customers’ power back on.”
Paulus said crews from the Pensacola-based utility restored power to 26,000 customers in less than two days of Tropical Storm Gordon in September. But Paulus added that Michael is expected to be much stronger and outages are expected to extend more than a few days.
Florida Power & Light
FPL said it is prepositioning over 1,350 employees and contractors, who will be ready to restore power to affected customers. The company will be opening staging sites across the state to respond to the storm.
News4Jax was told Wednesday that, in total, there were about 3,000 workers at three staging areas
One of those staging areas is at the Columbia County Fairgrounds in Lake City, where more than 1,000 workers and 300 FPL trucks were waiting to spring into action whenever needed.
FPL also set up a mobile command unit to monitor outages and assess damage. It also hopes to set up mobility sleeping units for utility workers.
According to FPL, Hurricane Michael is expected to impact nearly 125,000 customers, including people in Columbia, Nassau and Suwanee counties.
FPL said it will move resources wherever needed.
Meanwhile, Lake City resident Tim Lewis showed support for utility workers by dropping off 50 biscuits for them as they wait to respond Wednesday.
“As long as I’m safe and my other half is safe, we’re good. But I want these guys to know that we’re all out here supporting them, hoping that they stay safe out here too," Lewis said. “I just wanted to show a little appreciation and thank them for looking out for us."
Clay Electric said it is anticipating most of the damage from Hurricane Michael will be in its Lake City and Gainesville service areas.
The cooperative is moving its resources to those districts in anticipation of power outages so they can be swiftly repaired. Clay Electric members are urged to report outages via the online report form.
Duke expects 100,000 to 200,000 customers to lose power
Duke Energy Florida, which provides electricity to large parts of the state’s Big Bend and eastern Panhandle said Tuesday night it expects large-scale power outages because of Hurricane Michael.
The utility is partnering with other agencies, including JEA, and is using Jacksonville as a staging area ahead of the storm's landfall. It said it based the estimate on a storm-modeling tool that takes into account factors such as wind speed and the magnitude of the storm.
"Based on Hurricane Michael's current forecast track, we project that we could experience or customers could experience between 100,000 to 200,000 power outages in the northern part of our service territory up there in the Florida Panhandle," said Peveeta Persaud, a spokesperson for the company.
Duke’s service area includes parts of the state expected to be hit hard Wednesday by Hurricane Michael, including part of Bay County and the coastal counties of Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla.
Duke said it has mobilized 7,000 workers to restore power after the hurricane and is bringing in workers from Duke’s operations in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.
A large portion of the people assigned for hurricane recovery will spend time in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Equestrian Center will host up to 1,500 trucks and up to 3,000 workers.
Gas prices, supply
The AAA Auto Group reported that Michael isn’t expected to cause a “significant” spike in pump prices as its path remains east of most energy infrastructure such as oil rigs and refineries. But “long lines at gas stations in the Panhandle” have left at least some stations empty as fuel trucks rush to meet demand.
"Gasoline outages in the Panhandle are spotty, but not widespread," said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins. "There continues to be plenty of fuel supply in the state, but getting a tanker truck to a gas station -- before it runs out of fuel -- can be a challenge during a time of such high demand.”
The governor dismissed reports of “widespread” fuel outages, while appearing Tuesday afternoon at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in Eastpoint.
“The state Emergency Response Team has been holding regular calls with the fuel industry and ports in Florida to ensure they can get gas to the area safely,” Scott said. “I was just on a call with them, and they’re working hard to make sure we keep getting gas in the state.”
Fuel deliveries will be suspended when winds reach 45 mph.