Florida Power & Light this week claimed the $3 billion of work the company has done in recent years to hurricane-proof its system made a substantial difference in recovery from Hurricane Irma in the state.
FPL made its point by comparing Irma to 2005's Hurricane Wilma, which was the last major storm in many Miamians' memories. Though Irma was more powerful (Category 4 versus Category 3 for Wilma) and affected a larger swath of the state (35 counties versus 21), recovery was on average quicker.
"By all accounts, the hardening really did work," FPL public affairs director Mark Bubriski says.
A million more FPL customers were affected by Irma, almost 90 percent of the state's population. That is not as bad as Puerto Rico, where virtually everyone lost power, but is slightly worse than South Florida during Wilma. Moreover, in Puerto Rico, less than 10 percent of power has been restored, though Maria struck the island September 20.
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Bubriski says the hardening, which FPL has said was part of the reason for raising customers' rates $400 million this year and $411 million over the next three years, was geared more toward rapid recovery than preventing outages.
"The point is to be able to restore power more quickly," Bubriski says. "There is no amount of hardening that is going to stop a 50-foot-tall date palm from falling on the lines."
Indeed, company numbers showed a 60 percent decrease in outage days between Wilma and Irma. Customers were without electricity an average of 15 days after Wilma, compared with seven days after Irma. The reason: Many more poles were knocked down in Wilma, and it took only a day to get all substations working after Irma.
"It is really hard to be without power," Bubriski says. "We know that."