JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida Power and Light held a ribbon cutton and tour of its new facility the Palm Coast Service Center on Tuesday. The facility is built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and can house up to 118 "Stormriders" or employees and workers from other areas who will stay at the facility during a hurricane and work to restore power to area residents.
FPL has 12 of these Service centers positioned across the state with the ability to house over one thousand Stormriders between the facilities. Pre-staging resources before a storm arrives is vital to more quickly restoring power. Often times workers from other states travel with equipment to assist in restoration after disasters and they are housed at facilities like the Palm Coast Service Center. If building like the Service Center are not available, they must stay just out of the storm's path until it passes and it is safe to venture in.
The new Palm Coast Service Center is one of twelve service centers that FPL chose to "harden" or make more sturdy to withstand hurricanes and more well equipped to house workers before, during, and after the disaster, all in an effort to restore services more quickly to residents.
Senior Vice President Manny Miranda explained at the start of the event how the 2005 Hurricane Season prompted an initiative within FPL called Storm Secure- due to the extensive damage from Hurricane Wilma, they focused on replacing vulnerable power poles, and setting up the resources to pre-stage workers and equipment to start restoration work as soon as possible.
Over the last 11 years, FPL has invested nearly $3 billion to make the energy grid smarter, stronger and more storm-resilient, and those investments are paying off for customers. None of the hardened transmission structures like the Palm Coast Service Center – the backbone of our system – were lost during Hurricane Irma. All of FPL's substations were up and running within a day following Irma. Hardening helped make the system more resilient and provided for a much faster restoration. In fact, FPL lost only a fraction of its poles, which today numbers 1.2 million, as compared with Wilma – with early estimates of approximately 2,500 downed (0.2 percent) during Irma as compared with roughly 12,000 during Wilma. And, FPL's smart grid positioned the company to restore hundreds of thousands of customers during the storm without the need to roll trucks.
"Every one of the 35 counties served by FPL, stretching from the Florida/Georgia border to south of Miami and up through Bradenton, was affected. In fact, 90 percent of our customers lost power. Irma was a much more expansive and widespread storm than Wilma, yet we restored customers at a much faster pace," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. "That said, we are a company of human beings and we recognize that no storm restoration is perfect. We will continue to make improvements and incorporate lessons learned so that we are even better prepared for the next hurricane. For example, we understand that what our customers want to know more than anything else is when will their power be restored. Unfortunately we were not able to accurately and consistently provide the kind of useful and detailed restoration estimates that our customers have come to expect from us during normal operations. We are going to get better at this and we're already working on it."
On Tuesday's facilities tour, FPL showed off it's Situation Room, where real time outage reports come in and are mapped, showing which homes are effected. The newly installed 4.9 million smart meters and 83,000 smart grid devices use cutting-edge technologies to help reduce the number of outages and restore service faster when outages occur.
The facility houses crews and offices for day to day operations, where they receive an average of 8 incidents where they investigate to see if services need to be restored. When a hurricane or tropical storm is approaching, the facility transforms to house out of state crews and equipment to supplement the efforts to restore services quickly. The building has the ability to house 118 people, it has 11 shower facilities, a briefing room and a bunker room on each of the two stories.
The Palm Coast Service Center also had FPL's Community Response Vehicle on display. The vehicle can be brought to the hardest hit areas as a mobile command center, it offers the same resources and technology as the company's command center in Palm Beach County.
Florida Power & Light Company is the third-largest electric utility in the United States, serving nearly 5 million customer accounts or an estimated 10 million people across nearly half of the state of Florida. FPL's typical 1,000-kWh residential customer bill is approximately 25 percent lower than the latest national average and, in 2016, was the lowest in Florida among reporting utilities for the seventh year in a row. FPL's service reliability is better than 99.98 percent, and its highly fuel-efficient power plant fleet is one of the cleanest among all utilities nationwide. The company received the top ranking in the southern U.S. among large electric providers, according to the J.D. Power 2016 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction StudySM, and was recognized in 2017 as one of the most trusted U.S. electric utilities by Market Strategies International. A leading Florida employer with approximately 8,900 employees, FPL is a subsidiary of Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NEE), a clean energy company widely recognized for its efforts in sustainability, ethics and diversity, and has been ranked No. 1 in the electric and gas utilities industry in Fortune's 2017 list of "World's Most Admired Companies." NextEra Energy is also the parent company of NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which, together with its affiliated entities, is the world's largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun.