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Lights out, Orlando? Call St. Petersburg

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001


St. Petersburg residents may have felt they were in a corporate Siberia when Carolina Power & Light gobbled up hometown heavy hitter Florida Power last year. Now, it may be Orlando's turn to feel like an outpost.

By next year, Florida Power will close the Orlando area's two dispatching offices and move 18 jobs to its Energy Control Center in St. Petersburg.

Dispatchers send repair crews to businesses and homes with power outages. Employees performing the work say it's vital to know the geography and type of equipment there.

When a storm knocks out power across a large part of Central Florida, dispatchers in St. Petersburg will struggle to get crews to the right places quickly, says Edward Mobsby, a 20-year Florida Power employee who is a dispatcher in Seminole County.

"Restoration times will double or triple," he says. "This has to do with saving on overtime. It has nothing to do with customer service."

Nonsense, Florida Power says. The utility simply wants to consolidate the two Orlando-area centers and a third in Pinellas at its high-tech Energy Control Center in St. Petersburg, spokesman Rick Janka says.

The center's storm-tracking equipment will help dispatchers identify areas with the worst damage, he said. Florida Power will staff all three dispatching centers and the Energy Control Center until everyone is up to speed, Janka said.

But Orlando's municipal utility, which is surrounded by Florida Power's service area, may make some hay out of the change.

"Our people know the road networks . . . they're not just looking at maps," says Paul Dillon, a spokesman for the Orlando Utilities Commission. "It speeds our ability to restore service faster."

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