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LCEC, FPL point to planning for power restoration efforts

September 27, 2017
By ERIC DeVAUX ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

With most of Lehigh Acres getting its electricity back over the course of last week and the weekend, Lee County Electric Cooperative and Florida Power & Light Company credited sticking to a plan.

"We stuck to our plan and worked it the way all utilities do in an event such as this - restore the main infrastructure, get the most customers on first where the damage is minimal and then return to the more damaged areas," Karen Ryan, public relations manager for LCEC, said in a prepared statement. "We stuck to the proven plan knowing it was the most efficient and safe way to restore everyone the quickest."

Lehigh was one of the worst hit areas in Lee County, which delayed LCEC and FPL from fixing the power. Their projections, early on, were to restore the area's power by Sept. 22 due to the damage.

Article Photos

Karen Ryan

"We have thousands of crews on the ground actively converging into their neighborhoods, going street by street," Tyler Mauldin, communication specialist for FPL, said. "They are working hard to get power restored."

About 24,000 customers were restored by Sept. 19, with the remaining 5,000 by the estimated date.

"Rebuilding much of the infrastructure takes time," Ryan said. "There will be single services that still need repair and we will continue to work on that. A lot of the services are rear-lot, which makes it more difficult because it is hard to get equipment in for repairs. Again, it is nothing that we cannot overcome."

Finding out the monetary damage to the infrastructure could take months. But, LCEC has an early estimate.

"It is going to be an expensive restoration effort," she said. "Millions (of dollars)."

The wind and rain were both a factor in the power outages in Lehigh.

"Everything from the substation to the service lines to individual homes had some sort of damage," Ryan said. "This meant miles of line not just to repair, but to rebuild. In some places equipment was in a pile of rubble. In other places it was under water. The wind on the bad side of Irma hit Lehigh Acres, Immokalee and Everglades City the worst."

To start restoration, LCEC and FPL had to determine who never lost power and work backwards.

"It was helpful to start with a large number in the 'customers with power' column," Ryan said. "Our transmission lines and substations all fared well. That helped us to restore power to many customers very quickly. When the lines carrying the power from the source are damaged you can't work your way down the line to the residence or business until those are restored."

High-priority areas are at the top of the list.

"We first focus on making sure our power plants and our main power lines are in tiptop shape and there are no damage to those," Mauldin said. "Those are what generates the power and feeds the power out to the communities. We make sure we get power to the critical facilities. That would be the hospitals, the police departments, the fire stations, the grocery stores, gas stations."

Officials reported that the linemen had trouble out in the field.

"Trees, trees, trees," Ryan said. "The damage as a result of trees, especially in Lehigh and parts of Cape Coral and Pine Island, was daunting. Our vegetation management crews have been working 20-hour days alongside our line crews to clear the way so that linemen can do what they need to as soon as they arrive on the scene."

Following a restoration effort, FPL reviews what worked and what did not.

"We'll do a very thorough post-evaluation once everyone is restored," Mauldin said. "We'll compile a lessons learned and we'll go forward."

Overall, there was a smooth process between FPL and LCEC working hand-to-hand, even though, at some points, there was little to no cell phone service, according to officials.

"With their own restoration effort underway, we made sure FPL knew we were there if they needed us, and they offered to assist if we needed help," Ryan said. "For the first two days there was little to no cell phone communication in Lehigh Acres and some of the other areas we serve. We were able to communicate through radio and deployment of restoration team members into the field. Communication is key not only for restoration but for the safety of our team."

With every storm that passes, FPL and LCEC will improve upon their restoration plans.

"We're all about improving at FPL," Mauldin said. "We're always looking at how we can get better."

"Although our plan worked well there are always things to learn and ways we can improve," Ryan said. "We will debrief after all customers have power, discuss new things to incorporate into our plan and start practicing it for the next storm that heads this way."



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