FPL CEO after Ian hit Fort Myers: ‘We were able to restore power here in days’

Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 5:10 PM EST
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If there’s one man who knows the power of a hurricane and how to power up after one, its Eric Silagy, Florida Power & Light Company’s CEO.

"This one was jarring, there's just no other way to describe it."

WFLX met with him for an exclusive interview on Fort Myers Beach, walking the same path he took 48 hours after Hurricane Ian hit. A total of 396 polls lined this stretch and took one of the worst hits on their grid.

"We had a storm surge that came this direction and went through every one of those polls going in this direction, we only lost four," he said.

The four that fell were battered by cars, boats and a house, which was caught on video during the height of the hurricane.

Considering the conditions, Silagy said an investment over the last 15 years to harden the grid paid off and this storm proved it.

"We were able to restore power here in days versus weeks and months," he said

While power is back on, not every structure can take it. Officials have to inspect every single building to make sure it's electrically safe to flip the switch. That stemmed from a dire situation in the days following Ian.

Fort Myers Beach sustained such unprecedented damage, FPL had to come in right after the storm and turn power off to the entire island so emergency rescue personnel and first responders could go into these homes safely to see who was alive.

The company continues to work all over the west coast of Florida helping each customer. It's a restoration effort that changed drastically after the 2005 hurricane season.

"We changed the way we even approach or think about storm response and that takes a broad approach, but one of the biggest things is investing, hardening, concrete, steel equipment, under-grounding, different training and preparation," Silagy said.

Silagy said a 15-year massive multi-billion-dollar decade of hardening of the grid helps them flip the lights back on quicker each time and Hurricane Ian proved to be the fastest.

"We're also installing a lot of smart grid technology, so we actively get data that is so predictive in nature and the data is so rich for us, that we're fixing things before they break," he said. "We're building and planning today for five to 10 years down the road."

Changing the grid is a march not a sprint according to Silagy, and when they're not in a storm they are preparing for one.

Ian came with a catastrophic level of destruction and a powerful lesson that no grid is hurricane proof, yet hardening it each day only helps those who rely on it now and when the next storm strikes.

"Part of what we're trying to do is predict the future, " he said. "I'm trying to predict with the company how many people are gonna move to Florida in five years, in 10 years."

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