For its first press release of Nov. 1, Florida Power and Light (FPL) announced that it had restored electrical power for “more than 77 percent of FPL customers impacted by [Hurricane] Wilma.” According to the FPL website (fpl.com), this is 2,514,900 out of an initial 3,241,400 customers that lost power on Oct. 24. These are impressive statistics and it’s a testament to the work of FPL’s employees that so many people have their power restored so quickly. The larger picture, however, is being completely lost: should we really be feeling so congratulatory because FPL can rapidly fix a large portion of an electricity distribution infrastructure that broke down so quickly?
Anyone who lived through Hurricane Andrew will tell you that while Wilma did indeed have some strong winds and did cause some serious damage in some places, Wilma was certainly no Andrew. While Wilma has inconvenienced many people, there are no areas that qualify for the characterization of “devastated.” Not having electricity for nearly a month is no small inconvenience, but it’s not “devastation.”
Wilma was a category three when it hit and weakened slightly as it moved across Florida. Yet it still managed to knock out electricity for more than three million customers. Combine this with the power outages that occurred as a result of Hurricane Katrina when some were without power for more than a week, and a somewhat troubling picture develops.
Meteorologists predict that the upsurge in hurricane activity is going to continue for at least the next 20 years. Given the apparent fragility of FPL’s current electricity infrastructure, are we willing to accept a system that breaks down under relatively little applied pressure? And what’s going to happen when the next Andrew, a category five storm, hits?
FPL, in coordination with the state and federal government, should consider redesigning the current electricity distribution infrastructure to take into account both the current infrastructure’s weakness and the upsurge in storm activity. To do so will be expensive. But how much is it already costing us in terms of lost economic productivity and repair and recovery costs? The first place to start should be to consider whether continuing to mount electrical wires on what is essentially a big wooden stick is the best way to maintain electrical system integrity in an area prone to tropical storms.
Nothing we do will ever eliminate power outages, but by making some necessary and long overdue changes FPL can go a long way toward minimizing the negative affects these storms have on our communities.
Scott Wacholtz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.