Supply chain issues could keep some Florida neighborhoods without power for months after a hurricane

Florida Emergency Management Director: ‘That’s going to be problematic’

ORLANDO, Fla. – As hurricane season hits its peak, Florida’s top emergency manager is warning of the potential for major electrical problems after a storm hits.

“We’re in an area of which supply chain issues are becoming more and more of a problem,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said.

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Guthrie’s comments came as part of a presentation to the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council in Orlando last week, in which he was outlining worst case scenarios for the state.

He relayed the concerns he said were already expressed to him by one of Florida’s power companies -- JEA (Jacksonville Electric).

“After the first incident in the country, there will be a supply chain problem,” he said. “They will be able to get the power restored, but there are certain businesses or neighborhoods that may be on a generator power for months to years. That’s going to be problematic.”

“This is not a municipal utility issue. This is not a Florida-specific issue. This is a national issue,” Amy Zubaly said.

Zubaly heads up the Florida Municipal Electric Association, which represents the common interests of Florida’s 33 public power companies.

She said it is taking longer for utility companies to obtain “hurricane basics,” such as transformers, wire and poles.

“Moving into hurricane season, they typically increase their ‘storm stock supply.’ They have their regular ‘operating supply’ of materials, and then they have their ‘storm stock supply,’” she said. “They continue to function as their normal operations go, and then if a storm hits, they have a backup of supplies. What we’re finding this year is, we still have that ‘storm stock supply,’ and it may not be as high as it typically is. Their normal operating supply is diminishing, and it is not as high as it normally is.”

News 6 investigated and found that orders of transformers and other supplies traditionally took 3-6 months to arrive.

Those same orders made today by power companies have delivery dates as long as 2-6 years from now.

“Some manufacturers are declining to accept new orders altogether due to historic backlogs,” said Alisia Hounshell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association.

FECA, which represents 17 electric cooperatives that provide electric service in Florida, said in a statement that their members are feeling the strain of supply issues.

Central Florida Impacts

“We have enough equipment on hand to be able to handle anything that may come our way,” said Tiffany Henderson, spokeswoman for Kissimmee Utility Authority.

Henderson said KUA noticed supply chain issues starting during the pandemic, so they stocked up on parts.

“Our emergency stock levels are met, which means we have enough equipment on hand to be able to handle any type of power restoration due to a potential storm or hurricane,” she said.

Other companies, however, are feeling the pinch.

A utility worker tries to restore power to a neighborhood after Hurricane Irma hit in 2017. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

SECO Energy, which services parts of Lake, Sumter and Marion counties, warned customers about “supply chain constraints” in an open letter on their website.

“This shift changes our business model to operating around the available materials,” CEO Curtis Wynn wrote.

JEA in Jacksonville told News 6 one of their transformer shipments was supposed to arrive in May, and it has now been postponed to November – after hurricane season ends.

“We do have transformer inventory that is dedicated to meet storm response,” JEA spokesperson Simone Garvey-Ewan said.

A spokesperson for Duke Energy said their company has a proper supply of materials to restore power in the event of a major storm.

Orlando Utility Commission acknowledged the difficulty the industry is facing.

“Supply chain issues certainly are impacting many industries, and the utility is no exception,” Communications Director Michelle Lynch wrote in an email to News 6. “Our procurement team saw early indicators and pre-ordered items for the current hurricane season, including wooden pole and pole-mounted transformers.”

Florida Power and Light’s spokesperson said their company saw the longer lead times for many of their items and began stocking up on materials earlier than normal.

“We have to look at what recovery is going to look like before the storm, and recovery is going to look a little different, this year,” Seminole County Emergency Manager Alan Harris said.

If supply chain issues result in longer power outages after a storm hits, local emergency managers could be forced to keep storm shelters open longer.

“Garbage is going to take a little longer, debris is going to take a little longer,” he said. “Communication systems may be down, the power may take a little longer to get restored -- simply because of the supply lines. Home repair may take a little longer, so there may be blue tarps on roofs much longer than we saw back in Hurricane Irma.”

Working Toward Solutions

Garvey-Ewan said JEA continues to place orders for more materials, including from companies overseas, while crews are also refurbishing transformers in-house and working with manufacturers to secure parts needed to complete a transformer build.

She said JEA is also collaborating with other power utilities to see if they can share resources.

In the meantime, a bipartisan group of U.S. congressional representatives from Florida have written a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asking the agency to intervene and increase production.

“The weakened systems will make them more susceptible to damage when disaster occurs,” the letter reads. “FEMA must employ mitigation efforts with the local Florida electric community to ensure that transformers, bare wire, meters, and other electric grid equipment will be available ahead of the first disaster.”

About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.