Jacksonville-area power companies prepare for Hurricane Irma

Utility partners from 29 states called in to help restoration force

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As Hurricane Irma gets closer to Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, many people can’t help but remember the damage from Hurricane Matthew, which included widespread power outages.

News4Jax spoke with local power companies and JEA customer Sam Norris, who lost power for eight days after Matthew.

JEA began staging several of its vehicles and contractor trucks Friday in the Morocco Shrine Center parking lot. JEA officials and other local power companies want customers to know crews are preparing and say residents should too.

Norris said he is preparing for Irma by covering up holes in his shed that were left from Hurricane Matthew. Norris said this week has been like déjà vu.

“We were without power for about eight days (and) lost all of the food we had in our freezer,” Norris said. “A tree didn't hit the house, but one fell on my work shed in the back and that tree also fell on the back of a boat that I was rehabbing.”

Norris said the eight days without power were rough, but he knew JEA was working hard. JEA and other local power companies, such as Florida Power and Light, Clay Electric Cooperative, Georgia Power and Beaches Energy, all have their own crews ready and outside crews are on standby. The companies have all told their customers to expect power outages.

Gerri Boyce, spokesperson for JEA, explained why it could take longer to restore power to your home than to the home of someone down the road from you.

“We need to see where the outages are and what caused them. It doesn't make sense for us to come to your house to restore power if the substation is out, or if we have transmission lines down,” Boyce said.

JEA also said it will restore power first to high-priority areas such as hospitals and police and fire stations.

COUNTY-BY-COUNTY: Latest Hurricane Irma info for Jacksonville | Jacksonville's beaches | St. Johns County | Clay County | Nassau County | Flagler County | Putnam County | Inland First Coast counties | Georgia counties

Other important information from JEA:

  • 250 JEA linemen ready to go, 325 mutual aid and contractor linemen and 215 tree contractors
  • Doing behind the scenes work now, like making sure all trucks are filled with fuel and ready to go
  • Crews will not work if winds are over 40 mph
  • Before they turn power back out they first have to do assessments -- where is the outage, what caused it, how do they fix it?
  • JEA workers will restore power to a circuit that has 2,000 homes connected to it before they restore power to a circuit with 200 homes
  • JEA workers will restore power to critical areas first like hospitals and police and fire stations
  • Make sure your information is updated on JEA.com so they can send you updates if you do lose your power

JEA also reminded customers that

  • JEA serves water east of the intercostal to parts of St. Johns and Mayport. Not Jacksonville Beach.
  • Water plants are still running in the areas JEA serves.
  • We do expect widespread prolonged electric outages.
  • JEA and mutual aid crews/contractors cannot safely restore service until the winds are less than 40 mph.
  • Please avoid standing water.
  • Treat all downed lines as if energized.

 

Information from other area utility companies:

Georgia Power

  • Rolling crews out on Sunday to pre-stage them in Macon
  • Will wait until storm passes until it’s safe to head toward the coast and start restoration efforts
  • Part of national mutual assistance network, so able to pull outside crews from different states as needed -- on standby for now
  • All hands on deck
  • Customers advised stay in homes and let crews come in to do damage assessment. If you want information sign up for outage alerts, go to georgiapower.com
  • With Matthew, it did take about a week to get all power restored so expect the same
  • 2.5 million customers in Georgia -- 95 percent of the state
  • Keep cash if debit cards aren’t working

Beaches Energy 

  • Plan is to not turn off power or water as long as they can operate safely
  • Remember, they don’t just serve Jacksonville Beach but also Ponte Vedra and Neptune beaches
  • They’ll have skeleton crews of electric water and waste water personnel in the area. But if conditions become unsafe, they will leave the island and can operate remotely
  • With Matthew, the power was back on within 48 hours because they had station crews ready to go and they hope this will be a similar situation
  • Eighty percent of their utilities are underground, which is a huge investment made over last two decades and helps the avoid damage that above ground wires would be more likely to see
  • A spokesperson said he doesn’t expect things to be as bad for them as Matthew and thinks and hopes they will be able to fully operate throughout the storm

Clay Electric 

  • Facility is built to sustain hurricane force winds, but when you have trees come down and other debris and they land on system, it can cause power outages
  • Expect outages that could last a week or longer
  • As soon as storm conditions allow, they’ll start restoration efforts and calling in crews from other states -- all available man power working as quickly as possible.

Florida Power and Light

  • FPL is assembling a restoration force of more than 13,500 including utility partners from 29 states, as far away as Texas and California.

Power plant shutdown

The operator of two nuclear power plants in Florida said the plants will be shut down well before Hurricane Irma makes landfall.

FLP President Eric Silagy said Friday that the company will shut the Turkey Point and St. Lucie plants down 24 hours before the onset of hurricane-level winds. Turkey Point is located south of Miami in Homestead. St. Lucie is on the state's east coast

Silagy says the two plants are among the strongest structures in the world and are encased in a 6-foot-thick (1.8 meters) cement structure reinforced by steel. The plants also have multiple safety systems and are elevated about 20 feet (6.1 meters) above sea level to protect against flooding and extreme storm surges.

Turkey Point took a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Silagy said officials "will not take any chances, and those plants will be secure."

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