Big changes to protect our area from power outages during storms are being made in Punta Gorda, parts of Charlotte County, North Port and Venice, announced FPL.

In Punta Gorda over the past couple of months, utility trucks have been replacing wooden poles with concrete ones, and other changes throughout the area are being made as well, said FPL spokesperson Marie Bertot.

“All throughout the area, FPL has made significant investments to make our system more storm-resistant,” she said.

Among the changes are “hardening” poles to meet new standards for high winds, Bertot said.

“When a power pole is damaged, it takes time to reinstall a new one,” she said.

But now with stronger poles, only wires would have to be replaced, meaning power would be restored sooner, she explained.

Bertot said the number one cause of damage to poles is vegetation; when high winds topple large branches and even trees, some land on the poles, causing them to topple over. Also, during Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm, utility poles along the highways leading into Charlotte County were bent in half. They were replaced with wider, stronger concrete poles.

But there will be other changes. Over the next 10 years, FPL will spend $1 billion each of those years to significantly improve the system, she said.

FPL has rolled out a pilot program in which Punta Gorda is involved. The pilot program, which includes over a dozen towns, cities, neighborhoods and counties, involves replacing utility poles with underground lines. However, the improvements would not be made in areas prone to floods, as repairs can’t be made until the waters recede, hence longer repair time, she said.

As part of the Storm Protection Plan approved by the Florida Public Services Commission, FPL has estimated that between 300 to 500 neighborhoods in the pilot program will have their power lines placed underground by 2022.

But that doesn’t mean all utility poles will disappear entirely; they will not be removed by minimized in places were telephone and cable equipment is not underground, according to FPL.

Once a neighborhood has its power lines underground, it will have a pad-mounted transformer — a gray metal box on concrete platform on the resident’s property, and a handhole — metal covering allowing repair access to underground lines.

Remember when an outage occurred and a utility truck would arrive on the scene to make physical repairs? Now, FPL has installed “smart grid technology,” Bertot said. Automated switches will be activated to reset a system after sensors determine there is a power disruption. This allows the system to switch the power to one of the other two lines quickly, avoiding an outage.

Changes to FPL’s system came after the 2004 and 2005 storm season, “culminating with Wilma when 12,400 poles were damaged,” Bertot said. FPL spent over $5 billion to make the system “smarter and stronger,” she added.

When Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, “the storm went straight up Florida, yet a fraction of our poles were damaged,” said Bertot.

Since that $5 billion initial investment, FPL says its reliability has increased 40%.

Meanwhile, the 2021 hurricane season which officially starts June 1, has begun earlier in recent years. The National Hurricane Center has announced it will issue daily outlooks starting May 15, after the 2020 hurricane center which had 30 named storms, with two occurring in May.

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