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As Irma restoration proceeds, more mutual aid requests arrive

As mutual aid crews from near and far continued to stream toward Florida and other parts of the Southeast hurt by Hurricane Irma — some making the long highway trek in their trucks all the way from Washington state — lineworkers and tree crews stayed on task, clearing vegetation and getting power lines working again.

Public power mutual aid coordinators received a request for specific equipment needed by Puerto Rico for its hurricane restoration work, and acted on a request for assistance from investor-owned utility Georgia Power Company, which still had more than 150,000 customers in the dark as of Thursday morning.

Wednesday evening, a request came to mutual aid coordinators from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, asking for 30 workers. PREPA said it needed line crews, tree crews, digger-derrick trucks, and other equipment, including 45-foot poles, bushings, and hardware.

The number of power outages in the Southeast dropped, and some customers were getting electricity back in the hard-hit Florida Keys — including the public power town of Key West — but much work remained to be done there and in other severely damaged areas, including the public power communities of Orlando and Barstow, said Amy Zubaly, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association.

In Florida, 225,000 public power customers still had no electricity as of 9 a.m. on Sept. 14, said Zubaly in a conference call with public power officials on Thursday morning. That is about 15 percent of public power customers in the state, she noted.

“We’ve restored nearly 600,000,” she said.

“Your crews have all been greatly appreciated,” she told the mutual aid coordinators.

25% of Florida customers lack electricity

Statewide, including customers of investor-owned utilities, public power utilities, and rural electric cooperatives, 2.6 million, or about one quarter of Florida’s electricity customers, still had no power, Zubaly said.

A transmission line between the Florida Keys and the mainland had been working, but went out again, then was put back into service Wednesday night, Zubaly said. Communications with people in the Keys were very difficult, and even texting service was only sporadic, she said.


Crews from Snohomish PUD, en route to the Southeast, are seen here east of Yakima, Washington. Photo courtesy of Snohomish PUD

“I’m hoping today will be a bit of a turnaround for the Keys,” she said, adding that roads there were still closed to everyone except those working to restore service.

One major transmission line owned by Duke Energy was back in service, allowing public power communities that receive power over that line to restore service to their customers, said Zubaly.

For some of the crews on the road on Wednesday, it took a long time for them to get to their destinations, she said, but Interstate 75 had not yet closed. High water levels in the Santa Fe River were threatening to flood the highway, and officials were saying they might have to close I-75.

The Miami Herald reported that officials now believe the threat has passed and that the road will remain open.

Georgia Power asks for help, and gets it

During the Thursday morning mutual aid conference call, an official with the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association said that investor-owned Georgia Power had reached out to public power officials for help restoring electric service to areas that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma.

Danette Scudder, vice president of TVPPA, said that Georgia Power had requested assistance and that several TVPPA member utilities had responded. Public power utilities from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky were sending crews to help the investor-owned utility’s restoration efforts in Atlanta, Athens and Gainesville, Georgia, she said.

Georgia Power, a part of the Southern Company, said on its website Thursday morning that as of 10 a.m. that day more than 158,000 of its customers were without power.

Washington utility’s crews arrive at East Coast

A public power utility from Washington state is among those who have come to help with the power restoration effort in the Southeast.

On Sunday, Sept. 10, Snohomish PUD sent 19 workers and 11 utility trucks.  The crews arrived Thursday afternoon and will be gone for up to 60 days, said utility spokesman Neil Neroutsos. All PUD labor and supply costs are being reimbursed as part of the relief effort, he said.

This is not the first time that the PUD has come to the rescue of people in the East. Five years ago, in the fall of 2012, Snohomish PUD sent 11 workers to help get power back on after Superstorm Sandy. They stayed there for about two weeks, primarily on the New Jersey coast, said Neroutsos.

Public power utilities from all over the country have been sending linemen, tree crews and trucks to help their sister utilities in Florida. In addition to the Snohomish crews from Washington, public power crews from the following states have hit the road to help with Irma restoration effort: Alabama, Arkansas, the Carolinas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and New England.

Investor-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives also have mutual aid crews working in the Southeast. All together, the army of utility workers is estimated at more than 50,000.