On Saturday, March 10, the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) bestowed its annual “Restoring Communities Awards” on Florida’s public power utilities who were recognized for their efforts to quickly and safely restore power to communities in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. All of FMEA’s member utilities received recognition this year as all were impacted by Hurricane Irma.
The awards were presented during the 18th Annual Florida Lineman Competition, March 9 – 10 in Kissimmee. For a complete list of winners, click here.
“After 11 relatively quiet years, Florida has now experienced two very active back-to-back hurricane seasons. This past season’s Hurricane Irma was a powerful and massive Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall in the Keys. The second strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, Irma was wider than the Florida peninsula leaving few parts of the Sunshine State spared,” said Chip Merriam, FMEA President and vice president of legislative, regulatory & compliance for the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC). “All 34 of Florida’s public power utilities were affected. Despite the widespread impact of this storm, public power utilities responded quickly and safely, working through many challenges to restore power to all our customers as fast as possible.”
Statewide, nearly 7 million electric utility customers were without power following Hurricane Irma, including more than 827,000 public power customers. Public power utilities were able to restore power to more than half of their customers within 24 hours and 80 percent of all customers within 48 hours. More than 98 percent of public power customers were up within a week.
Hurricane Irma resulted in the largest pre-planned power restoration effort in U.S. history. Prior to the storm making landfall, FMEA activated mutual aid agreements across the country, lining up nearly 2,000 additional public power lineworkers to support the 1,000 public power lineworkers in our communities. Crews and equipment from 200 municipal electric utilities in 26 states and Canada were stationed inside and outside the state so they were ready to move into affected areas as soon as conditions were safe.
Following our own restoration efforts, Florida public power sent crews and equipment to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, also battered by Hurricane Irma and then hit hard by Hurricane Maria. More than 190 personnel from nine different public power communities responded to calls for assistance in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Power was only fully restored to the U.S. Virgin Islands just one week ago.
“We are incredibly grateful to all of the out-of-state and even out-of-country utility crews who came to our aid after Hurricane Irma. We’re also incredibly proud of our members who sent their crews to other communities in Florida to help out the areas most affected by Irma, as well as the linemen who left Florida to help our neighbors in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, many of which left their families and homes during Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Amy Zubaly, FMEA Executive Director. “Our members are more than hometown heroes and these awards recognize their dedication to not just their own communities, but to communities everywhere.”
Public power utilities can call on each other for emergency workers and supplies through mutual aid agreements. Florida’s public power utilities benefit from this strong network of partners within Florida and across the country through the American Public Power Association. These dependable connections have created a reliable system where member utilities both request and offer assistance. Mutual aid agreements are also in place with electric cooperatives and Florida’s investor-owned utilities in order to draw upon additional resources.
Municipal electric utilities provide affordable, reliable electric service, and have been doing so for more than a century. As community-owned and locally managed organizations, these utilities are able to focus on the unique needs and interests of their customers and have nimble and quick response times all while investing back into their communities.