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Impact from 2005’s Hurricane Wilma led FPL to make energy grid stronger, smarter and more storm resilient

JUNO BEACH, Fla. -- Fifteen years after Hurricane Wilma slammed Florida as one of the costliest storms in state history, significant investments by Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) have made the energy grid stronger, smarter and more storm resilient for the company’s more than 5 million customers.

“Wilma was a turning point,” said Manny Miranda, FPL senior vice president of power delivery. “Hurricane Andrew was more powerful, but Wilma’s damage spread across a much larger area and capped a brutal 16 months of hurricanes. No utility is stormproof, but we knew we needed to make significant changes to the energy grid to speed our restoration efforts and get the lights back on faster for our customers.”

Hurricane Wilma, which made landfall as a Category 3 storm in southwest Florida on Oct. 24, 2005, was the last of seven hurricanes to hit or affect FPL customers in 2004-05. The hurricane sliced across the peninsula, knocking out power to 3.2 million FPL customers in 21 counties and inflicting roughly $20 billion of damage to the state.

Just months after Wilma’s landfall, FPL unveiled its Storm Secure Plan, a landmark, long-term initiative designed to improve reliability for customers by strengthening the company’s electric grid against future hurricanes and other adverse weather.

The program has produced significant improvements in service reliability and continues to expand in scope 15 years later, as FPL has invested more than $5 billion in measures to strengthen the grid, including:

  • Hardening main power lines that serve critical community facilities and services, such as police and fire stations, hospitals and 911 centers
  • Upgrading or replacing distribution power poles that no longer meet FPL's industry-leading standards for strength while inspecting all of the company’s 1.3 million power poles on an ongoing 8-year cycle (approximately 150,000 poles inspected annually)
  • Maintaining trees and other vegetation along 15,000 miles of power lines annually
  • Replacing wood transmission structures with concrete or steel

FPL also initiated its Energy Smart Florida Program by being one of the first utilities to install smart meters, automated switches and other intelligent devices that detect problems before they occur and get the lights on faster if there is an outage.

FPL has installed more than 5 million smart meters and more than 160,000 intelligent devices along the energy grid, which also contribute to improved reliability and reduced restoration times. While it took FPL 18 days to restore power after Hurricane Wilma, it took the company 10 days to get the lights on after Hurricane Irma in 2017, which was a stronger storm that affected more customers.

More recently, to address a leading cause of power outages – overhead power lines and other equipment impacted by downed trees, branches and other structures – FPL in 2018 launched the Storm Secure Underground Pilot Program to replace overhead power lines not part of the company’s hardening program with more reliable underground lines in neighborhoods with a history of vegetation-related interruptions and other reliability factors.

The pilot is helping determine the most cost-effective methods to place underground power lines in neighborhoods to enhance reliability in good weather and bad. The pilot is yielding important data that will continue to advance FPL’s efforts as it envisions more widespread undergrounding in the future.

“We listened to our customers, regulators and employees after Wilma to come up with an industry-leading program we can be proud of,” Miranda said. “When I see the way we have learned and improved in the 15 years since Wilma, I am confident we are better prepared to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws our way and can continue to fulfill our commitment to provide safe and reliable power that our customers rely upon.”

B-Roll from Hurricane Wilma restoration efforts: https://fpl.sharefile.com/d-s8c8b30f963943bb8

Florida Power & Light Company
Florida Power & Light Company is the largest energy company in the United States as measured by retail electricity produced and sold, serving more than 5.1 million customer accounts or an estimated 10 million+ people across the state of Florida. FPL’s typical 1,000-kWh residential customer bill is approximately 30% lower than the latest national average and among the lowest in the U.S. FPL’s service reliability is better than 99.98%, and its highly fuel-efficient power plant fleet is one of the cleanest among all electric companies nationwide. The company was recognized in 2020 as one of the most trusted U.S. electric utilities by Escalent for the seventh consecutive year. 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 2020 list of “World’s Most Admired Companies.” NextEra Energy is also the parent company of Gulf Power Company, which serves approximately 470,000 customers in eight counties throughout northwest Florida, and NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which, together with its affiliated entities, is the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun and a world leader in battery storage. For more information about NextEra Energy companies, visit these websites: www.NextEraEnergy.com, www.FPL.com, www.GulfPower.com, www.NextEraEnergyResources.com.

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