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FPL warns 2.5 customers expected to lose power in hurricane, company may have to 'rebuild' part of grid

Florida Power & Light, the state's largest electric utility, sent customers a grim warning Thursday that "as many as 2.5 million customers will experience power outages and damage" as Category 4 winds from Hurricane Matthew pummel the east coast, forcing the company to "rebuild parts of its electric system" before power is restored.

"Depending upon Matthew's ultimate path and intensity, damage to our electrical infrastructure will be extensive," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL in a press release. "The impacts of this storm will far exceed the design standards of not just the FPL system, but much of the design standards of homes and buildings throughout the region."

The company said that it is anticipating "a significant and challenging restoration effort along parts of Florida's east coast." Silagy said the company has lined up assistance from employees and workers from other utility companies and has" a workforce of more than 15,000 ready to respond."

But the company warned that "flooding, fallen structures, debris and other obstacles also can affect the speed of power restoration."

The company's message to customers to lower expectations comes in the wake of complaints in Tallahassee last month, when Category 1 winds from Hurricane Hermine downed trees and powerlines and interrupted to much of the capital city. It took the city's municipally-owned power company between two days to a week to have electricity restored to all homes and businesses.  

FPL said it will assign workers to "operate bucket trucks and restore service in between bands of severe weather, as long as winds are below 35 mph and conditions are safe."

The company is now better prepared to handle the storm than it was in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma cut power to parts of Broward County for as much as two weeks.

After the seven storms that pummeled Florida in 2004 and 2005, the Florida Legislature and the Public Service Commission ordered FPL and the state's other investor-owned utilities to develop storm hardening plans.

FPL said Thursday it has invested more than $2 billion since 2006 "to build a stronger, smarter and more storm-resilient energy grid that will allow us to restore power much faster than ever before."

"That said, there will be outages as no utility is hurricane-proof, especially when facing a powerful storm such as Matthew," the release said.

The company said that as a result of "lessons learned from 2012's Superstorm Sandy" it has installed real-time flood monitors at 223 substations substations in Miami-Dade, Broward, Collier and Lee counties to help them prevent transmission interruptions caused by flooding.

For more information, the company urges customers to go to fpl.com