Home / FPL working to bury power lines to protect them against strong storms

FPL working to bury power lines to protect them against strong storms

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

Florida Power and Light believes burying power lines could be a solution to help restore power quickly after a major storm.

Undergrounding power is a part of Florida Power and Light’s plan for storm protection. The electric company is also strengthening above-ground lines.

Not only does that mean a better look by not having power lines running through the air, but it also means you’ll get your power back quicker when a storm hits.

Image from the Hurricane Charlie in August 2004. (Credit: WINK News)

In August 2004, Hurricane Charley shredded homes and forced power lines to the ground throughout Punta Gorda and Southwest Florida.

“We were uncomfortable, miserable, but we didn’t have the damage that they have,” said   Debbie Martin from Cape Coral.

Martin lived in Southwest Florida when Charley hit nearly 18 years ago, but she remembers it like it was yesterday. Power lines were downed, and power outages spread across Southwest Florida.

Charlotte County Fire Department Batallion Chief Michael Seneca said the power in his county was out for nearly a month.

“The power lines and the number of poles broken and lines that were down, it was really an impressive storm,” said Seneca.

“One of the biggest problems we face during hurricanes and extreme weather is trees and vegetation blowing into overhead power lines,” said George Bennett, a Florida Power and Light spokesman.

Bennett said it took that situation to form a real solution; moving power lines underground.

Hole being drilled for power liens to be fed underground. (Credit: Florida Power and Light)

It’s part of FPL’s storm secure power line program.

Two dollars from every paying customer every month goes toward the initiative, which allows workers to install power lines under your feet using a tactic called horizontal drilling.

“We dig a hole and shoot the line underground, and then it comes down the street rather than digging a trench, and then when the project is complete, we restore people’s property to the original condition,” said Bennett.

Through the program, crews would strengthen existing above-ground lines ahead of future storms.

Power line being fed underground. (Credit: Florida Power and Light)

Bennett said that FPL had installed more than 800 underground power lines in neighborhoods statewide.

By the end of this year, the goal is to have 75 underground lines in Charlotte, Collier, and Lee county neighborhoods.

“We are prioritizing neighborhoods that have had the most history of outages during hurricanes that were caused by trees and vegetation,” Bennett said.

Seneca said the benefits of adding more underground power lines to more neighborhoods would be life-changing for his team. It would reduce the number of calls firefighters see for downed power lines.

One of the benefits of the underground power line is the ability to restore power quickly.

Debbie Martin has called Lee County home for 50 years and knows what it’s like to go through a hurricane and lose power.

“After Hurricane Irma came through, we were without power for at least two days. And my father was in the ICU. I had a generator, and I was in my bedroom where we had an air conditioner, and my phone was charging in the kitchen, and I missed a call from the ICU doctor, and my dad passed away the next day,” said Martin.

Stories like Martin’s are why Florida Power and Light want to do what they can to get electricity back to customers sooner after a storm.

Years before Irma, Hurricane Charley devastated parts of Southwest Florida, and the power was out for nearly a month in some places. It is why the company launched the storm secure program.

Power line being fed underground. (Credit: Florida Power and Light)

“We started this storm secure power line program to put more power lines underground,” said Bennett.

Bennett said one of the power company’s biggest problems during hurricanes and extreme weather is trees and vegetation blowing into overhead power lines and knocking them down.

Moving the lines underground can eliminate those unwanted outages, and flying or falling hazards couldn’t hit them or knock them down.

Martin hopes it will be enough. “I can say they’re doing better. There’s always room for improvement.”

“Our goal is to bring the benefits of underground to many more customers in the years ahead as part of our project,” said Bennett.