Winds of Change: Hurricanes pose opportunity for states to modernize power systems
- November 1, 2017: Vol. 4, Number 11

Winds of Change: Hurricanes pose opportunity for states to modernize power systems

by Mike Consol

After millions of Northeast residents lost power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, it forced a reckoning for the electric power industry, which began investing in more resilient systems to withstand future storms. Interest was also directed toward micro-grids, smaller and more distributed power delivery systems.

While the utility business has traditionally been resistant to change, increasingly violent storms have softened that defiance. Given that electrical infrastructure needs to be reconstructed, it seems shortsighted to simply repair rather than modernize and harden the vital power delivery system.

Now that hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate have struck Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast, respectively, the opportunities to advance the state-of-the art is evident. Especially hard hit was Puerto Rico, as all of the island’s 3.5 million citizens lost power — in some cases for weeks and perhaps even months — because 80 percent of power transmission lines went down.

As the Puerto Rico power grid now stands, about two-thirds of power generation is located in the south of the island, where load is small, which means power must be transmitted to larger towns over mountain terrain, making the system vulnerable.

Modernizing the electric grid is not an easy undertaking for a power agency more than $9 billion in debt, and the island government about $70 billion in debt. Privatization of the system is one option, by selling to private investors, an idea presented in a June opinion piece written by four members of Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board and published in The Wall Street Journal. Privatization would allow the utility to modernize its equipment and depoliticize its management.

Texas faces some issues similar to those in Puerto Rico, such as the use of long and vulnerable transmission lines to serve customers. An executive from the Pace Energy and Climate Center argues the state needs to integrate micro-grids and distributed solar and storage.

In Florida, chairman Julie Brown of the State of Florida Public Service Commission drafted a statement that read: “The PSC plans to review Hurricane Irma’s impacts on electric utility infrastructure and the utilities’ post-storm restoration performance as soon as reasonably feasible.”

An Oct. 3 workshop held by the PSC to discuss Florida electric utilities’ 10-year site plans, identified system upgrades and modifications needed to maintain adequate reliability.

Peter Robbins, a spokesman for Florida Power & Light, told Utility Drive, a power industry news outlet, that about 40 percent of the system had been hardened before Hurricane Irma, with traditional wood utility poles replaced by either a composite or concrete, while other power lines were buried underground. When Irma struck, the composite and concrete poles were mostly able to withstand the hurricane force winds.


Mike Consol ( is editor of Real Assets Adviser. This article was excerpted from Utility Drive. To read the full, original article, go to this link:

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