BY JASON STROMBERG
The Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) was busy at work last week, which is no different than any other week.
With the hurricane season in full swing and several systems swirling in the tropical Atlantic, an FPL crew was at the Shell gas station on the corner of Wellington Trace and Greenview Shores Blvd. last Thursday. There, the project included installing a stronger power line that is designed to withstand winds of up to 145 mph. It was done to speed up power restoration following storms.
This upgrade is part of FPL’s ongoing work to build a grid to deliver electricity customers can count on in good weather and bad.
“FPL is committed to building a stronger and smarter grid for our customers to deliver reliable service,” FPL spokeswoman Florencia Contesse said. “The work we are doing in Wellington here today includes installing a new concrete power pole designed to withstand winds of up to 145 miles per hour.”
Why was this particular power line identified?
“This power line is a main power line serving Wellington, including more than 2,500 local residents and businesses and critical facilities, such as Palm Beach County Fire-Station 20, Wellington Landings Middle School, gas stations and businesses in the local area,” Contesse said. “The reason it is important is because following a major storm, these facilities help our community get back up.”
Not only the gas station, but nearby banks and the local Publix store are essential in giving community members that comforting feeling that everything will be all right when living through the aftermath of a hurricane.
Kellen Lewis, an FPL line specialist, believes putting a stronger power line in at the Shell gas station was imperative to residents’ well-being and safety during hurricane season and throughout the year.
“We are hardening the lines, making it stronger,” Lewis said. “We are strengthening the system here by putting in thicker and taller concrete poles. It is so important for us to strengthen the feeder because this power line serves 2,500 customers.”
Lewis and the FPL crews have been installing stronger lines throughout Wellington this month. Also last Thursday, a new, 55-foot concrete pole was installed in a nearby area. A crane lifted the 18,000-pound pole high in the air and lowered it into the ground, surrounded by a bucket truck and the FPL crew guiding the pole.
Since 2006, FPL has invested more than $2 billion to make its system stronger, smarter and more resilient against storms. Hurricane Hermine was the first hurricane in more than a decade to affect FPL’s service area.
Due to the FPL crews’ work to improve the local power lines, the investment paid off for customers because there were fewer outages and faster restoration times.
“All of our workers here have a heart of gold,” FPL Safety Specialist Cheryl Burson said. “They want to get our customers’ lights and electricity back to normal; however, their training teaches them that they have to take the necessary safety precautions to perform their work and protect themselves, as well as the public, which is what they are doing today.”
A safety meeting is held between the foreman and the crew every workday morning, Lewis said.
“Safety for our team and for the public is the most important,” Lewis said. “It brings attention to the job stuff that we have on the table. We are closer to the intersection than we have been with this project, so we are constantly aware of the vehicles around us. There’s good situational awareness. Our focus has been on the traffic on the ground, while watching the line workers in the air.”
Strengthening power lines helps make the FPL system more storm-resilient. By strengthening the lines, FPL has found that it improves the nearby area’s electrical reliability by 40 percent, according to Contesse.
“In total, in the local Wellington area, FPL is installing more than 140 poles,” Contesse said. “The installation process is going on through the end of the year. We are constantly doing this strengthening of our system. Aside from the installation of new poles, we clear vegetation from thousands of miles of power lines every year. It is 15,000 miles of clearing vegetation across 35 counties that we serve. Vegetation growing in the power lines is one of the main causes for power outages.”
When a storm is projected to hit South Florida, Florida Power & Light never wants its customers to panic. They will be doing everything in their power, so to speak, to help restore electrical power, or even prevent it from going out.
“All of the construction work we do is important because it helps us deliver reliable service to our customers,” Contesse said. “As part of strengthening our system, we also inspect existing power poles to make sure they are strong. We replace the poles that no longer meet our criteria for strength. We inspect our power lines with infrared technology, so we can detect any issues that may be missed by the naked eye.”
Last Thursday was no different.
“These guys do this job day in, day out,” Burson said. “The traffic control that we have out here [last Thursday] is not only for our workers’ protection, but also to ensure that the public can safely maneuver around us.”