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Lakeland Electric Assistant General Manager Joey Curry reported to the Lakeland City Commission on Friday afternoon on the city-owned utility’s performance during and after Hurricane Ian.
Curry noted that 63,523 customers lost power during the storm – some as early as Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 28, as the outer bands began to reach Lakeland. By the end of Thursday, Sept. 29, even as light rains continued, Lakeland Electric had already restored power to 36,260 customers. It took several days until all power was restored to the remaining customers, with the last ones coming online on Oct. 4. Curry noted that Hurricane Irma in 2017 knocked out power to 93,000 customers.
“I was so proud of these guys and gals,” Curry said of his team of about 200 people. They were augmented by an additional 200 linemen and 100 tree cutters from Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, and New Jersey – including a crew from Lubbock, Texas, where former Lakeland Electric General Manager Joel Ivy is now working.
“Joel Ivy was real happy to send us some crews,” Curry said. He noted that Lakeland is part of the Florida Mutual Aid Association and the American Public Power Association.
Lakeland Electric staged workers at Tigertown, where a partnership with the Detroit Tigers allowed linemen to sleep, eat and shower. Lakeland Electric staff helped with their laundry, too.
Out of those 500, there were no major injuries and only one minor one – a contract crewman sprained an ankle.
Curry said about 150 customers in Lakeland had damage so extensive that power could not be returned safely to their homes and businesses until repairs were made.
One issue he noted was that Kathleen High School, which was serving as a shelter for 340 people, lost power Wednesday afternoon and did not have backup generators. His crews worked on that site, even as winds were beginning to pick up, to get electricity back on, adhering to safety protocols prescribed by North American Electric Reliability. Within two hours, power was restored.
He noted that following Hurricane Irma in 2017, nursing homes must all now have generators.
“Our top priority is to ensure critical facilities, such as hospitals and public services, have power,” Curry said. “In doing this, we must have the power to serve these facilities.”
Their first order of operations is to restore service the power plants, then to substations and distribution circuits, then tap or lateral lines, which typically service between 20 to several hundred customers. Finally, individual connections are restored.
“These tend to be the most difficult and time-consuming tasks and ones that can frustrate customers who have been without power for some time,” he said.
A lot of that work involves private property and easements, which don’t allow large trucks access and requires special equipment and/or linemen to climb poles instead of using bucket trucks.
Curry said a number of people had asked about Lakeland Electric’s “Medically Essential Service Program” and wanted to know how to qualify. The program provides certain medically fragile customers advance notice about power interruptions so they can make other plans for backup power or go to medical facility. He noted that, in the event of an emergency like a hurricane, it is the customer’s responsibility to have backup power or an action plan for proceeding to the nearest medical facility. People wanting to participate must have verification from a doctor regarding their medical condition, type of equipment used, and length of time it is needed. Examples of qualifying equipment include oxygen concentrators, heart monitors, medications administered through powered devices, and controlled atmospheres. Lakeland Electric keeps a record of the medically fragile and requires doctor’s validation annually.
“We can’t guarantee your power 100% of the time,” Curry said. “If you’re a medically essential person, you should have a backup plan.”
City Commissioner Stephanie Madden asked about burying power lines, something Lakeland Electric is slowly doing. Most new subdivisions built in the last 20 years have buried their lines, so it is a retrofit project in older neighborhoods.
“Whenever there’s a storm, everybody wants it, but when it’s a blue-sky day, they forget about it,” Curry said.
Lakeland Electric has an Undergrounding Program for which a Reliability Committee determines need. The most pressing issue is where three power circuits cross at North Florida Avenue and Parkview West, near Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center. He described those lines as swaying in the wind when there is a storm. The cost to bury them is about $460,000. His annual budget for burying lines is about half a million dollars per year, but he said he is trying to increase that with grant money.
“If we can get that underground, that will be a huge improvement for all the neighborhoods around the hospital,” said Curry, who has worked for Lakeland Electric for 36 years and remembers working on that same issue as a new lineman. He said it affects 6,000 customers.
He added that he had worked with the previous city attorney on an idea that would involve homeowners associations agreeing, with support from 100% of homeowners, to undergrounding and then the city assessing homeowners on the tax rolls. But he said he couldn’t get support from all the homeowners.
“We tried it with a couple of subdivisions and nobody would give us a 100% commitment,” Curry said. “If someone has an HOA that is fully committed and wanting to partner with us, send them my way.”
Currently, Lakeland Electric is trying to obtain a grant to put all of Polk City’s lines underground because they’re at the end of the system and lose power during storms.
He concluded by saying undergrounding isn’t the cure-all because water oaks and laurel oaks have a shallow but wide root system and can uproot buried power lines. Lakeland Electric also has a program to remove and replace nuisance trees for free.
Lakeland Electric can be reached at 863-834-9535 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native. She can be reached at email@example.com or 863-272-9250.
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I feel as if Lakeland Electric.Shouls At least Cut the next bill because some of us Jobs didn’t pay us for time loss due to the store.and the bills are getting higher than normal and that’s before Hurricane Ian
With that statement when Hurricane season start electric bills should be cut in half until after hurricane season
That’s my thought
And A great Big thanks to all the Linemen that came from far and nearmti help City of Lakeland Lights to be restored.
Lakeland Electric always shines as a local municiple electric provider. LE crews are professional and capable. Their equipment is state of the art. You should have included a picture of an LE electric service bucket to represent them.
Hardening the electric service by burying lines in old neighborhoods should be a high priority.
Would love our power lines to go underground. We lose power in every hurricane and are usually last to get it back on due to tree damage in our subdivision. We were thrilled to see it restored this time in 3/4 days. Many thanks to the San Antonio power for bringing in 5 power trucks and two new poles…..
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