Florida Utilities Face Unpredictable Storms

Top Florida utility officials said Tuesday that the increased intensity and unpredictability of hurricanes are making storm preparation more difficult and costly.

Leaders of utility companies and associations representing municipal utilities and electric cooperatives made presentations to the Florida Public Utilities Commission as the six-month hurricane season prepares to begin June 1.

Armando Pimentel, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light, and Archie Collins, president and CEO of Tampa Electric Co., said the increased unpredictability will cause utilities to take what Pimentel described as a “conservative” approach. to prepare for storms. For example, while a storm might be projected as a Category 1 hurricane, utilities will prepare for a Category 2 or 3 storm.

“It’s very clear that there is more damage, whatever the reason,” Pimentel said. “There are clearly more people. There are clearly more buildings. It is clear that an intensification is taking place. But there is more damage. And now we have to prepare for storms a little earlier than we had, and it will be a little more expensive than what we had.”

Pimentel and Collins pointed to examples like last year’s Hurricane Idalia and 2022’s Hurricane Ian, which gained strength and took unpredictable paths before making landfall as devastating storms.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to figure out how to find the balance between being well prepared and not spending too much planning for an impending hurricane,” Collins said.

Forecasters predict a busier-than-normal hurricane season this year, in part because of warm water from the Atlantic Ocean that fuels the storms.

The state’s four private electric utilities (FPL, Tampa Electric, Duke Energy Florida and Florida Public Utilities Co.) can generally pass along hurricane preparation and recovery costs to customers. That can include the costs of bringing in thousands of crew members from other parts of Florida and other states to restore power after storms hit.

Utility executives said Tuesday that those efforts may become more complicated when utilities in nearby states hesitate to send equipment to Florida because of concerns that their own states could be affected.

By bringing in crews, Melissa Seixas, state president of Duke Energy Florida, said utilities “are literally organizing an army. We have to house them, we have to feed them. We have to wash their clothes. And, of course, we must help keep them safe.”

He said his company benefits from being able to bring in other Duke crews from South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.

Gabriella Passidomo, a member of the Public Utilities Commission, said that with the increasing intensification of storms, “preparing for that will necessarily be more expensive until forecasting technology improves greatly.”

“There is a balance there. Of course, customers care enormously about power restoration and restoration,” Passidomo said. “But affordability goes hand in hand with that, so we’re just trying to strike a balance.”

Utility officials said they are trying to be prepared.

“The waters are warm again this year,” Pimentel said. “We are all aware of that. “That is what we are going to prepare for this year.”