Utility companies solidify three-year hardening plans, 10-year plans on the horizon

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Storm hardening plans for 2019-2021 for Florida’s five major utility companies were approved by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) Tuesday morning.

The plans set the short-term goals for under-grounding power lines and reducing outages during storms, but the power companies will soon be required to take a long-term view of storm hardening. (Pixabay)

“I love the detail that some of the initiatives and some of the utilities covered,” said PSC Commissioner Julie Brown.

The plans set the short-term goals for under-grounding power lines and reducing outages during storms, but the power companies will soon be required to take a long-term view of storm hardening.

The PSC began requiring the three-year plans in 2006 after Florida took the brunt of eight hurricanes over a two year period.

Following Hurricane’s Mathew, Irma, and Michael lawmakers demanded utility companies look further out.

State Senator Joe Gruters sponsored a bill with that goal, that was signed by the Governor in June.

“Every day that we have a third of our state down costs the state a billion dollars a year in lost economic activity,” said Gruters in May.

The new law is set to take effect later this year. It will require companies to develop a 10-year hardening plan. The focus will be on under-grounding power lines and vegetation management.

“It will hopefully make sure that Florida is ready for these storms in the foreseeable future and that we get people back up and running, power back on earlier,” said Gruters.

Under the new law, utility companies will be able to request rate hikes upfront on an annual basis to cover the cost of grid hardening, instead of having to recover the money after the work has already been done. How large of an increase customers may see isn’t clear.

“The cost of things like under-grounding and hardening are included in the base rates that customers pay,” said Mark Bubriski with Florida Power and Light Company. “How that changes going forward still remains to be seen, but I think that this will enable additional investment for customers, which will have a long term benefit.”

Before the plans can be submitted, the PSC must go through a rulemaking process, which has to be completed by Halloween.

The Public Service Commission will also be required to report to lawmakers each year on the progress of the utility companies’ hardening efforts.