During the first full week in October, public power electric utilities across the United States join to celebrate Public Power Week. It is typically filled with events and activities that help customers and stakeholders learn about the benefits of being part of a public power community. This year, Public Power Week took on a whole new meaning as Hurricane Michael -- just 2 mph shy of a Category 5 storm -- barreled toward Florida’s Panhandle.
As it became evident a hurricane would hit the state, the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) jumped into action days before Michael made landfall to arrange mutual aid from around Florida and other states. We knew we could count on help from public power communities across the country because they had come to our aid last year following Hurricane Irma and the year before during Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew.
The fourth strongest hurricane to ever hit the contiguous U.S. (by wind speed) and, by far, the strongest to ever hit the Panhandle, Hurricane Michael caused a level of destruction not seen since Hurricane Andrew more than 25 years ago. Nearly 122,000 public power customers in Tallahassee, Havana, Quincy, Chattahoochee and Blountstown were without power. Tallahassee had more than 95 percent of its customers out and lost nearly 60 percent of its transmission system. Havana, Quincy, Chattahoochee and Blountstown were left 100 percent in the dark. Entire electric systems were destroyed and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.
This is when public power is at its strongest. We are a community bigger than one city or town. We are a network of thousands of public power communities that always answer the call for help. More than 600 public power restoration personnel from Florida and 15 other states with more than 80 utilities combined helped restore power and rebuild the electric grid in communities impacted by Hurricane Michael. They left their homes and families to work 16-hour shifts in challenging and dangerous conditions.
For some of the hardest-hit public power communities, the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) assisted by sending its staff to help with power restoration, material logistics and document damage for federal disaster assistance. Other FMPA staff helped two cities with communications by managing the cities’ social media accounts so customers could receive up-to-date information on power restoration efforts.
This year’s Public Power Week illustrated the strength, solidarity and support that public power provides. It’s about neighbors helping neighbors -- whether that neighbor is from Kissimmee, Key West, Kentucky or Rhode Island. It’s about having each other’s backs in times of need.
As another hurricane season comes to a close, we extend our deep gratitude to all who came to our aid once again. You are the power behind public power.
Amy Zubaly is the Executive Director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association and Jacob Williams is the General Manager and CEO of the Florida Municipal Power Agency.