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Public power utilities prepare for arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa

July 6, 2021

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
July 6, 2021

Florida public power utilities have completed preparations for and are closely monitoring Tropical Storm Elsa, which is expected to make landfall along Florida’s Nature Coast early on the morning of Wednesday, July 7.

“In preparation for the storm, the Florida Municipal Electric Association has activated its mutual aid network,” said Amy Zubaly, Executive Director, Florida Municipal Electric Association, in a July 6 statement.

She noted that electric crews and resources from fellow public power utilities both within the state and from nearby states, including Georgia and Alabama, were on standby and ready to assist with power restoration efforts if needed. She said that as with any emergency, public power is committed to restoring power as safely and quickly as possible for customers.

“Our preparation efforts begin well before the start of hurricane season, and our mutual aid coordination efforts will continue right up until and immediately following landfall. We thank all the lineworkers and power restoration crews that are part of our mutual aid network for being at the ready to help impacted Florida communities,” she said.

Several public power utilities in the state noted that they are keeping a close watch on the tropical storm.

For example, Keys Energy Services (KEYS) said in a message posted on its website that it is prepared to restore service as quickly as possible if electrical facilities are damaged by Tropical Storm/Hurricane Elsa. 

It said that crews will be in the field working until sustained winds exceed 35 miles per hour. At that time, all crews will be called in from the field. If power outages occur at this time, KEYS will not attempt to restore power until after the storm has passed. Additionally, KEYS will not intentionally shut power off in advance of a tropical weather event, it said. Essential utility employees will be on standby to begin the restoration process once it is safe to do so, it said.

KEYS noted that it has a number of agreements in place so that, if needed, emergency supplies and additional crews from other utilities will quickly mobilize to assist in the restoration effort. “KEYS has established priorities for storm restoration that are intended to emphasize health, safety, and essential community services and to restore service in a manner that will affect the greatest number of customers first. The time required to restore power will largely be due to the extent of damage to our system. Restoration crews will work as quickly as possible to restore power,” the utility said.

KEYS is the public power utility for the Lower Florida Keys. Headquartered in Key West, Florida, KEYS provides electricity from Key West to the Seven-Mile Bridge and serves more than 28,000 customers.

The Weather Channel on July 6 noted that a hurricane watch had been issued for a part of Florida’s immediate west-central and Big Bend coast including much of the Tampa Bay metro area.

“Although Elsa is not officially forecast to reach hurricane strength, there is some possibility of that happening right before landfall on Wednesday, but that would not significantly change the expected impacts,” it said.

Santee Cooper

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s Santee Cooper on July 2 noted that its personnel were making preparations for the anticipated effects that Elsa may have on Santee Cooper’s service territory.

As of 2 p.m. on July 2, Santee Cooper, the state-owned public power utility in South Carolina, went to OpCon 4 alert status. This means there is a possible threat to Santee Cooper’s electric system, but effects may be limited or uncertain.

At OpCon 4, the utility is primarily:

  • Checking and fueling vehicles, including line trucks
  • Making sure communications equipment is in proper working order
  • Taking inventory and procuring supplies as needed, such as utility poles, electric transformers and associated equipment

In a July 6 email, Nicole Aiello, Manager of Public Relations at Santee Cooper, noted that in addition to these precautions, Santee Cooper has made work plans for transmission and distribution crews, Energy Control Center and Distribution Control Center team members, and customer service representatives in its Customer Care Center.

She said extra crews will be on standby to assist with restoration efforts, as needed.

“We also reached out to APPA mutual aid crews and contract crews, including tree crews, and they are on standby should we need them. We have three helicopters also on standby. We will continue to closely monitor the storm and are prepared to restore power outages as quickly as crews can safely get to them,” she said.

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