FPL moves hundreds of overhead power lines underground as part of pilot program

MIAMI SPRINGS, Fla. – As of Thursday, Florida Power & Light Co. had 53 miles of overhead power lines underground. It’s a project that stretches from downtown Miami to Delray Beach.

The project is part of the 10-year plan approved by the Florida Public Service Commission. FPL estimates that between 300 and 700 power lines will be placed underground annually from 2021 to 2023.

Isabel Espinosa has lived in Miami Springs for about 26 years. She was glad that FPL workers were working near her home on Thursday.

“We get electrical interruptions all of the time,” Espinosa said. “I would say a good 70% of the time whenever we have a strong storm that comes through.”

Marie Bertot, a spokeswoman for FPL said workers will bury 40 power lines in Miami Springs. The project, she said, will provide more reliable electric service since it will be less prone to long outages during and after storms.

Berlot said neighborhood power lines are chosen for the program based on past hurricane outage performance, a history of vegetation-related interruptions, and other reliability factors.

“We have about 160 neighborhoods that we have underground with more than 100 projects still to go,” Bertot said. “There is no cost to our customers.”

A tree blocks a road after it was downed by winds in Miami (Joe Raedle/Getty Images).

Trees and vegetation coming in contact with overhead lines were the leading cause of outages during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Bertot said underground lines showed about 83% better performance as opposed to overhead.

Workers no longer have to dig deep trenches. Bertot said now there is an in and an out point and machines do the rest underground. The trouble with the underground lines is that it will be more difficult for workers to find a problem since there is the possibility that they will need to dig and use heavy equipment to make repairs.

“In areas where there is flooding, it may not be better,” Bertot said, adding workers will have to wait for the water to recede to be able to make the needed repairs.

People create signs following powerful Hurricane Irma on September 12, 2017 in Key Largo, Florida in the Florida Keys. Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys as a category 4 storm, swelling waterways an estimated 10-15 feet, according to published reports. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

FPL released a statement from Manny Miranda, the company’s senior vice president of power delivery,

“The Storm Secure Underground Program pilot is one of the many ways we demonstrate our commitment to continuously improving the safe and reliable power we provide to our customers,” Miranda said in the statement. “As we prepare to put more neighborhood power lines underground in the coming decade, we are learning valuable lessons from the pilot that will benefit all of our customers for years to come.”

FPL released a list of lessons learned from the pilot:

• Identifying more efficient design and construction practices based on real-world experience

• Determining customer preferences and finding better ways to communicate with them about upcoming projects in their neighborhoods

• Minimizing disruptions for customers by using technology such as ground-penetrating radar to detect and avoid other underground facilities, such as telephone and cable lines and water mains

• Reducing inconveniences to customers by putting power lines, where feasible, in public rights-of-way rather than in private property

• Implementing cloud-based technology to better manage customer outreach and construction projects

• Identifying design and construction efficiencies by evaluating projects at the feeder, or main, power line level rather than selecting stand-alone neighborhood power lines.

About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.