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Key utility still struggling to restore South Florida's power

About 2-million remained without power Wednesday night, as infrastructure damage slowed repair efforts.

Published October 27, 2005

Florida Power & Light continued Wednesday to slog through the gargantuan task of restoring electricity to more than 2-million customers across South Florida still without power after Hurricane Wilma.

As of Wednesday evening, the Juno Beach utility said it had restored power to about 690,000 of the 3.2-million customers who had lost electricity.

FPL, Florida's largest electric utility, has been through this arduous process several times during the past two hurricane seasons, with hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne, Dennis, Katrina and Rita each leaving their own trail of damage.

But Wilma is presenting a far greater challenge than any of those storms. Aside from leaving a record number of customers without power, the Category 3 hurricane severely damaged much of FPL's transmission infrastructure. That includes the high-tension transmission lines that carry electricity out of its power plants, as well as the substations that convert electricity from the transmission lines to lower voltage and then send the power out via distribution lines to local neighborhoods.

Countless utility poles holding up distribution lines were knocked down by Wilma. But repairing those downed lines won't restore anyone's electricity until the transmission infrastructure is repaired. "We haven't seen this kind of damage since Hurricane Andrew," FPL president Armando Olivera said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. "All the storms we had last year had a very minimal impact on substations and transmission lines. "That ... frankly changed how we restore power because we've had to deal with those problems before we can focus on the lines that feed the neighborhoods."

To help meet its goal of restoring power to 95 percent of its customers by Nov. 15, FPL expects to get help from utilities and contractors in 33 states and Canada, according to Geisha Williams, FPL vice president of electrical distribution.

The company already has 8,200 repair and tree-trimming personnel at work, with another 2,600 expected before Sunday, Williams said during Wednesday's conference call.

Among those responding to the call for help are Progress Energy Florida of St. Petersburg and Tampa Electric.

Progress is sending 150 employees, 220 contract employees and another 160 employees from its sister company Progress Energy Carolinas. Tampa Electric has dispatched 206 repair and tree-trimming personnel.

[Last modified October 27, 2005, 01:29:09]

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