Q&A of the Day – Solar Panels & Underground Power Lines

Today’s entry: Brian, In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, I am wondering why we are not hearing about the damage to various #FPL solar farms along the storm's path and the cost to customers? The average is 4 years between storms. Not exactly an affordable energy source. 

Bottom Line: Well, the reason you’re not hearing about damage to FPL’s solar farms, despite having them in the direct path of Hurricane Ian, is because there wasn’t any meaningful damage to them as a result of Hurricane Ian. Here’s FPL’s official statement on the impact of Hurricane Ian on their infrastructure: 

While no energy grid is hurricane-proof, detailed assessments following Hurricane Ian have confirmed the resiliency of FPL's storm-hardened energy grid: 

  • FPL's power generating facilities: Even given the unprecedented devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, no significant structural damage occurred at any FPL power plant. 
  • FPL's transmission system: The backbone of any electrical system, transmission lines carry high-voltage electricity from power plants to substations. FPL did not lose a single transmission structure during Hurricane Ian. 
  • Underground power lines: FPL is working to systematically underground neighborhood power lines, which are traditionally located in backyards and susceptible to trees and other wind-blown debris. Initial forensics show existing underground neighborhood power lines performed five times better than existing overhead neighborhood power lines in Southwest Florida, which took a direct hit from the high-end, Category 4 storm. 

That’s about as good as it gets. No significant structural damage. No blown transmission systems. And also, the highly instructive update which demonstrates the dramatic improvement with the undergrounding of powerlines in one of the most devastating hurricanes in our state’s history that happened to strike FPL’s footprint and numerous power facilities, including solar plants directly. The reason FPL’s solar panels fared so well is because of how storm resilient they are. The typical solar panel is able to withstand winds of 140 mph, with the top-rated panels being able to handle winds up to 170 mph. To date, the only damage monitored during any hurricane to solar powered systems has been from debris falling on panels damaging them. As a result, through numerous hurricanes, FPL’s ever growing solar footprint has never been significantly impacted by the landfall of a hurricane. And in fact, there’s one example of the performance of solar during Ian which was remarkably impressive.  

Florida has one community which is exclusively solar powered and is run by FPL. It also happened to take a direct hit from Hurricane Ian. Babcock Ranch which sits 14 miles inland near Fort Myers. The community was built with storm resilience in mind with all homes built to withstand winds of at least 145 mph, to be able to handle storm surge and flooding of up to 25 feet and as mentioned is completely solar powered. The 4,600 residents in this community were unimpacted by Ian. In fact, they never even lost power. Of the 343,000 solar panels which power the community, none were dislodged and only two needed to be replaced after Ian as a result of objects landing on the panels. No community within similar proximity to the landfall of hurricane Ian fared as well. So as far as solar power, at least as provided by FPL, and hurricanes go – it’s proven to be as reliable as it gets and thus there’s no meaningful cost to customers for repairs. And speaking of positive performance, hearing the underground powerlines were 5x more reliable is also great news as South Florida continues the conversion process with many communities having already been fully undergrounded.  

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.  

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com  

Gettr, Parler & Twitter: @brianmuddradio  

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.     

Electric meters in a row measuring power use. Electricity consumption concept.

Photo: Getty Images

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