News The Buckshee
Manchin sets up new Congress clash with release of energy permitting bill

Sen. Joe Manchin released a bill designed to update the nation’s energy permitting rules on Wednesday, setting up the latest round of brinkmanship that will test whether the West Virginian can bend Congress to back his energy policy priorities yet again.

The bill — which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed to tie to a budget resolution that must pass by the end of the month to keep the government running — would put in place changes that Manchin has sought for years that would benefit both fossil fuels projects like new pipelines as well as the clean energy and power grid projects critical to President Joe Biden’s climate goals.

Linking the bill to a continuing resolution was part of a deal struck by Manchin, Schumer, Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the result of a unique political compromise to win Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act. As well as its healthcare measures, that bill included the biggest package of climate spending ever passed into law — and mandates inserted by Manchin that tied oil and gas leasing to renewable energy development.

As the most centrist Democrat in an evenly divided Senate, Manchin has been at the heart of the fights over key legislation for the past 18 month that has been critical to Biden’s congressional agenda — shaping and helping to pass the IRA, the CHIPs and Science Act to boost U.S. semiconductor production and last year’s bipartisan infrastructure act.

Passing the permitting bill though may be his most difficult task yet. Manchin’s pressure to pare some climate policies in the IRA angered progressives and green-minded Democrats, who ultimately acceded to him. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has vowed he won’t back a bill to fund the government that’s tied to loosening permitting rules, and dozens of House Democrats have also urged party leadership to split the two, though they have stopped short of saying they would vote against it.

A handful of Senate progressives led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have also joined the chorus asking party leaders to separate the stopgap funding bill from Manchin’s permitting legislation, citing “extensive concerns” they’ve heard from environmental justice advocates.

The text of his permitting bill — clocking in at 91 pages — hews closely to leaked summaries that have circulated in recent weeks. It would set time limits on environmental reviews for projects, and require the president to identify energy projects that are the most critical for the country. Most controversially, it would direct federal agencies to “take all necessary actions” to issue new permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a project delayed by legal setbacks that would deliver West Virginia’s natural gas to Virginia and North Carolina.

While it does not legislatively approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline, it would accelerate the re-permitting of the project, and it would give the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit jurisdiction over all future legal challenges to the project, taking the case away from the Fourth District, where environmentalists had found success in delaying its construction.

Democrats who support the bill say the pipeline measures are overshadowed by climate benefits from enabling the construction of new clean energy projects and the power lines to ship the green power long distances.

“The Manchin-Schumer permitting bill is a compromise, and there are things in the legislation I won’t agree with, but the bottom line is the net carbon reduction we are able to get in total,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), a leading climate hawk, said in an interview. “When we think about the massive build out of clean power and massive expansion of wind, solar, and carbon capture that is going to happen, we can’t allow that capacity to just sit unused because we are unable to cite transmission lines.”

But Republicans, who have widely backed calls to overhaul federal permitting rules, aren’t looking to hand Manchin another win after he switched his position and backed the IRA in July. GOP support for the CHIPs and Science Act had been contingent on Manchin not supporting the IRA — which he publicly backed after striking the deal with Schumer just hours after the semiconductor bill passed Congress.

While Republicans have said they’d consider Manchin’s legislation, they’ve also backed a rival measure pushed by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito seen as a messaging bill that would codify some environmental permitting changes put in place by former President Donald Trump, and which Biden has moved to undo. That GOP bill would boost oil and gas projects, and it contains no language helping clean energy projects. And with time running short to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government, Republicans have insisted that they play a role in shaping any permitting legislation that gets tacked to it.

“We [Republicans] are in favor of permitting reform,” Capito said in an interview. “I’ve been working on it for years. Certainly having the pipeline [Mountain Valley] in there has a parochial interest for me and others. But we need to have a discussion. That’s the problem. We haven’t been included in the process.”

Manchin has sought to downplay the personal stakes of his permitting push, describing it as a “balanced” effort to boost domestic fossil fuel projects that can help ensure lower energy costs during a period of high inflation. But convincing enough members of his own party while attracting Republicans will be difficult.

While Republicans say his proposals don’t go far enough to change environmental laws, many progressives have also resisted the permitting changes, arguing that easier approvals for clean energy projects are not worth the cost of locking in the fossil fuel emissions associated with new pipelines.

“I don’t think it is such that all progressives are fighting any permitting reform. People understand there may need to be some reforms, but it should be thoughtfully done,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said in an interview.

The permitting bill would move through the regular order process, meaning it has to earn 60 votes in the Senate — requiring Democratic and Republican support — to pass.

It would set a two-year target for agencies to complete environmental reviews for “major” energy projects, and the time in which lawsuits can be filed would be limited to 150 days after the final action. As well as designating a lead agency to coordinate the permitting process for projects, it would direct Biden to identify 25 high-importance energy infrastructure projects that would have to be balanced among various types, covering critical minerals, nuclear, hydrogen, fossil fuels, electric transmission, renewables, and carbon capture.

Democrats who support the legislation say the permitting bill’s most important reforms would give the federal government more power to plan, build and spread out the costs for transmission lines that often face delays of a decade or more due to public opposition at the local level and are critical to spreading clean energy around the country.

The bill would allow the federal government to take over the approval process by unilaterally granting a construction permit for a transmission line that the secretary of Energy has determined to be in the national interest, regardless of any state opposition. That is a step further than new authorities granted in the bipartisan infrastructure law that enabled the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to overrule states that oppose a new line, but only after states have done their own reviews.

The permitting legislation also addresses a sticky question of who pays for interstate transmission projects by directing FERC to allocate the cost of building lines between regions in proportion to how much those regions benefit.

“This is not just part of the deal in the sense of being an obligation to fulfill our end of the bargain to Sen. Manchin, but this is part of our national clean energy strategy,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in an interview. “We just simply have to make it easier to build these climate saving projects.”

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  • 1 минута назад 03.10.2022Energy & Environment
    Biden to announce $60M to bolster flood protections in Puerto Rico

    President Joe Biden will visit the hard-hit Ponce region of Puerto Rico on Monday and announce more than $60 million in funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law to build up the island’s defenses against future storms.

    The funding will aim to shore up levees, strengthen flood walls and create a new flood warning system to better prepare Puerto Rico for future storms, according to a White House official.

    At least 25 deaths have been linked to Hurricane Fiona, which hit the island Sept. 18.

    The president and first lady Jill Biden will visit the municipality of Ponce, which was one of the regions most devastated when Hurricane Fiona dropped 20 to 30 inches in the southern and southwestern parts of the island. About 14 percent of customers in Ponce had not had their power restored as of Sunday evening, according to LUMA Energy, the private company managing the island’s power grid.

    LUMA said 92 percent of its 1.5 million customers on the island have had their power restored although residents in restored areas report the power continues to cut in and out. The biggest ongoing power loss remains in the Mayagüez region, where 32 percent of customers were without power as of Sunday evening.

    Mayagüez and Ponce are not expected to be fully restored until Tuesday through Thursday.

    FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will join the president, who will be briefed on ongoing recovery efforts.

    The Biden administration released $1.3 billion for Puerto Rico to protect against future disasters in February 2021 and removed “onerous restrictions” imposed by the Trump administration on the island’s ability to access nearly $5 billion in additional funds, including for reconstruction and recovery after Hurricane Maria, according to the official.

    Activists have criticized the Biden administration for not initially including all of Puerto Rico in President Joe Biden’s declaration of a major disaster, as well as what they say was a slow flow of federal aid to communities that experienced catastrophic flooding. But they also have praised the Biden administration for some of its pre-storm preparation and mobilization for Fiona compared to the response of the Trump administration to Maria, which caused an estimated 2,975 deaths in the weeks after the 2017 storm made landfall on the island.

  • 18 часов, 1 минута назад 02.10.2022Energy & Environment
    ‘A character-altering event’: Officials reflect on Ian’s damage

    Hurricane Ian was a “character-altering event” for the state of Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio said Sunday, as state and federal officials reflected on the damage wrought over the course of the week.

    “Fort Myers Beach no longer exists,” Rubio (R-Fla.) said on ABC’s “This Week,” referring to one of the areas hardest hit by the storm. He added that when the town is rebuilt, “it’ll be something different. It was a slice of old Florida that you can’t recapture.”

    The death toll from the storm has grown to more than four dozen. Many homes are severely damaged or completely destroyed, particularly on the western coast of Florida where the storm made landfall, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said on CNN.

    In central Florida, some homes are “still underwater” as a result of flooding as the storm crossed the state, she said.

    Rubio characterized the federal response so far as “very positive, as it’s always been in the past.” President Joe Biden had multiple meetings with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, and plans to visit both Florida and Puerto Rico in the coming days, following successive devastating storms.

    The scope of the destruction led to discussion of a relief bill Sunday.

    “We do have to provide disaster aid,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And whether that’s for a hurricane, or whether that’s for flooding, or whether that’s for wildfires, we’ve got to do that.”

    Rubio, asked whether he would support a bill for relief bill including funding for seemingly unrelated projects, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” he would “fight against it having pork.”

    Congress is “capable” of passing a relief bill “without using it as a vehicle or a mechanism for people to load it up with stuff that’s unrelated to the storm,” Rubio said.

    The senator voted against relief for Northeastern states for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but defended that vote Sunday as against provisions in the bill that were not proximate enough to disaster relief.

    Scott, a former governor of Florida, avoided making judgment on the actions of local officials in Lee County, which did not send an evacuation order to its residents until Tuesday; several nearby jurisdictions issued evacuation orders Monday.

    “It’s something we’ll have to look at,” Scott said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” DeSantis has said those officials acted appropriately.

    Florida suffered massive flooding and widespread damage to infrastructure from Hurricane Ian, and the storm has left hundreds of thousands of people without power as it crossed nearly the entire state. It made landfall in Florida on Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, and hit the coast of South Carolina Friday as a Category 1 hurricane.

    Ian continued to climb the East Coast on Sunday, dropping rain far and wide. But both Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) and Gov. Roy Cooper (D-N.C.), speaking on Sunday morning shows, said their states had avoided the type of damage seen in Florida.

    “Certainly we have avoided the worst of it, and we sympathize with the people in Florida. We’ve offered help to them,” Cooper said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

  • 18 часов, 1 минута назад 02.10.2022Energy & Environment
    Live near water? Get flood insurance, FEMA admin says after Ian.

    Anyone living near water should buy flood insurance, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said Sunday, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

    “If you live near water, or where it rains, it can certainly flood,” Criswell said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding: “Just because you’re not required to buy flood insurance doesn’t mean you don’t have the option to buy it.”

    Most people do not have federal flood insurance, prompting concerns of financial ruin, POLITICO previously reported. The storm has prompted questions about how people should best protect themselves and their property in disasters, whether through building codes, evacuations or insurance.

    Hurricane Ian caused widespread flooding across the state of Florida, with some homes “still underwater,” Criswell said. The death toll grew to more than four dozen over the weekend. Many died in Florida from drowning.

    Everyone should understand their risks for disaster, regardless of whether they live on the coast, inland or in “tornado alley,” Criswell said. Those rebuilding in Florida after Ian should also “make informed decisions about what their risk is” if they choose to rebuild in the same place.

    The state needs to aggressively go after potential fraud in the insurance market, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

    In order to get insurance companies to do business in Florida, “you have to have stricter building codes … but then on top of that, you’ve got to make sure there’s no fraud,” Scott said.

    Strict building codes are also needed to help ensure people who choose to rebuild in desirable but vulnerable areas stay safe, Scott said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

    North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he is pushing people in his state to get flood insurance.

    “We know that particularly in these areas that are hit time and again that we’ve got to be more resilient,” Cooper said.

    Mobile manufactured housing — which has been criticized as unsafe in areas prone to natural disasters — can be “good for people to make sure that they have an affordable place to live,” Cooper said, asked whether it should be banned.

    “It’s sort of all of the above,” Scott said, asked about mobile manufactured housing on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

    Scott, a former governor of Florida, said he is concerned about costs because he “grew up in a poor family … You impact the poorest families every time you raise the cost of something. But you also want to keep people safe.”

  • 1 день, 20 часов назад 01.10.2022Energy & Environment
    Dozens dead from Ian, one of strongest, costliest U.S. storms

    CHARLESTON, S.C. — Rescuers searched for survivors among the ruins of Florida’s flooded homes from Hurricane Ian while authorities in South Carolina waited for daylight to assess damage from its strike there as the remnants of one of the strongest and costliest hurricanes to ever hit the U.S. continued to push north.

    The powerful storm terrorized millions of people for most of the week, battering western Cuba before raking across Florida from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, where it mustered enough strength for a final assault on South Carolina. Now weakened to a post-tropical cyclone, Ian was expected to move across central North Carolina on Saturday morning and reach south-central Virginia by the afternoon.

    At least 30 people were confirmed dead, including 27 people in Florida mostly from drowning but others from the storm’s tragic aftereffects. An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power, authorities said.

    Meanwhile, distraught residents waded through knee-high water Friday, salvaging what possessions they could from their flooded homes and loading them onto rafts and canoes.

    “I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don’t know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said after shuffling through her mostly destroyed Fort Myers apartment, the mud in her kitchen clinging to her purple sandals.

    In South Carolina, Ian’s center came ashore near Georgetown, a small community along the Winyah Bay about 60 miles north of historic Charleston. The storm washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two connected to the popular tourist town of Myrtle Beach.

    The storm’s winds were much weaker Friday than during Ian’s landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week. Authorities and volunteers there were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of what they just lived through.

    Anthony Rivera, 25, said he had to climb through the window of his first floor apartment during the storm to carry his grandmother and girlfriend to the second floor. As they hurried to escape the rising water, the storm surge had washed a boat right up next to his apartment.

    “That’s the scariest thing in the world because I can’t stop no boat,” he said. “I’m not Superman.”

    Even though Ian has long passed over Florida, new problems continued to arise. A 14-mile stretch of Interstate 75 was closed late Friday in both directions in the Port Charlotte area because of the massive mount of water swelling the Myakka River.

    The official death toll climbed throughout the day on Friday, with authorities warning it would likely rise much higher once crews made a more comprehensive sweep of the damage. Searches were aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said. He described one submerged home as an example.

    “The water was up over the rooftop, right, but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify that it appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many,” Guthrie said.

    The dead included a 68-year-old woman swept into the ocean by a wave and a 67-year-old man who who fell into rising water inside his home while awaiting rescue.

    Authorities also said a 22-year-old woman died after an ATV rollover from a road washout and a 71-year-old man suffered a fatal fall from a rooftop while putting up rain shutters. Another three people died in Cuba earlier in the week.

    In the Sarasota suburb of North Point, Florida, residents of the Country Club Ridge subdivision waded through waterlogged streets Friday. John Chihil solemnly towed a canoe and another small boat through the ankle-deep water.

    “There’s really not much to feel. It’s an act of God, you know?” he said. “I mean, that’s all you can do is pray and hope for a better day tomorrow.”

  • 1 день, 22 часа назад 01.10.2022Energy & Environment
    News The Buckshee

    Hurricane Ian is expected to financially ruin countless people in Florida whose homes were not covered by flood insurance when the storm inundated the region with powerful ocean surges and damaging downpours.

    The personal financial losses are a reflection of Ian’s intensity and the fact that millions of Americans nationwide haven’t bought flood insurance. The federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program — the dominant source of flood coverage in the U.S. — protects only a tiny fraction of homeowners, almost all of them in coastal areas.

    Ian’s web of damage was unusually widespread as the hurricane drove storm surge onto coastal areas and triggered river overflows and flash flooding across inland Florida, where almost nobody has flood insurance.

    President Joe Biden declared nine counties disaster areas Thursday, making residents eligible for federal aid to pay for minor home repairs, short-term housing and other emergency costs.

    That leaves 1.3 million households at ground zero without federal flood coverage.

    In Hardee County, only 100 households have federal flood insurance — out of 8,000 households in the county.

    That’s a 1.3 percent coverage rate.

    Hardee has one of the lowest income levels of any Florida county, and 44 percent of its residents are Hispanic.

    “Ian could financially ruin thousands of families in Florida. There’s no better way to say it,” said Mark Friedlander of the Insurance Information Institute.

    Flood coverage is not included in homeowners’ insurance policies. That forces people to buy flood insurance separately, though almost no one who lives inland from a coastal area does. The vast majority of flood coverage in the U.S. is sold through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program. It is unclear how many people have flood policies through private insurers.

    People without flood insurance “could be devastated,” Friedlander said.

    At the same time, the damage caused by Ian’s 155 mph winds could plunge Florida’s private insurance market into deeper chaos, potentially forcing additional insurers into insolvency and triggering a surcharge on almost every insurance policy in the state.

    The Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded research group, estimates that Ian has caused at least $30 billion in damage. That would make it roughly the 12th-costliest U.S. disaster since 1980, according to NOAA records.

    Ian hit Florida as the state faces an insurance crisis. Policyholders there pay the nation’s highest property-insurance rates, and huge losses have forced six small Florida-based insurers into insolvency this year while others have stopped writing new policies.

    That has pushed homeowners into Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed insurer of last resort. The number of its policyholders has doubled in the past two years and recently passed 1 million for the first time since 2014 (Climatewire, Sept. 19).

    Insurer losses are due to a combination of extensive legal claims and huge payouts on policies in states such as Louisiana, which has faced two catastrophic storms since 2020.

    “Florida is already having a problem with [insurance] availability. It’s having a problem with affordability. And it’s having a problem with reliability when insurance companies are going insolvent,” said Nancy Watkins, a principal at Milliman actuarial consultants. “All three of the pillars of a sustainable market are under threat.”

    Friedlander said he expects Ian-related claims to drive several local insurance companies into bankruptcy, making it even harder and costlier for Florida homeowners to buy property coverage.

    “Many insurers have been on the financial edge for several years. This may push them over that cliff,” Friedlander said.

    The average property insurance rate in Florida is $4,231 — nearly triple the U.S. average of $1,544, according to the insurance institute.

    A major issue as Florida begins to recover is the extent to which damage was caused by wind or by water. The question has huge implications for property owners without federal flood coverage and for private insurers that could face billions of dollars in wind-damage claims.

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) danced around a question about whether Citizens insurance has enough money to pay Ian-related wind claims. Instead, he emphasized the storm’s damaging floods, which are usually covered by the federal government.

    “We are looking at a lot of flood claims,” DeSantis said, adding that Citizens should be able to pay Ian claims without charging a special assessment on its own policyholders, or on all insurance policies in the state except for medical and malpractice coverage.

    Watkins said disputes and litigation will arise when property insurers like Citizens deny claims because they say damage was caused by flooding — which they don’t cover.

    “In a litigious environment like Florida, that could be a perfect storm on top of a perfect storm,” Watkins said.

    Records from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation show that insurance companies denied roughly 30 percent of the nearly 1 million claims filed after Hurricane Irma swept across the state in 2017.

    The denial rate in Florida for Hurricane Matthew in 2016 was roughly 40 percent.

    Citizens has $13.6 billion in reserves and has projected paying 225,000 claims from Ian worth a total of $3.8 billion.

    The good news for Florida is that it has more federal flood insurance policies than any other state — at about 20 percent of households. That’s second only to Louisiana. Nationwide, only about 4 percent of properties are covered through FEMA’s flood insurance program.

    But the bad news is that flood coverage varies widely across Florida — and among the counties that have faced the worst damage from Ian.

    In the nine counties that Biden declared a disaster, coverage rates for flood damage range from 1.3 percent in Hardee County and 3.2 percent in DeSoto County to 67 percent in Collier County, which is in the state’s southwest corner and is one of Florida’s richest counties.

    “There are going to be a lot of folks without flood coverage,” said Carolyn Kousky, a leading expert on flood insurance and associate vice president for economics and policy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “If you don’t have insurance, economic recovery from these events is really hard.”

    Some parts of Florida suffered huge flooding and are not among the nine counties that Biden declared a disaster.

    Orlando, which is Florida’s third-largest city, experienced up to 15 inches of rain and saw flash floods, according to the National Weather Service. The city has 130,000 households.

    Yet records show that only 2,039 buildings are covered by federal flood insurance.

    That’s a coverage rate of 1.5 percent.

    Inland flooding caused by Ian “highlights the fact that as climate is changing storm patterns, we’re seeing lots of flooding away from the coasts from stalled hurricanes and intense precipitation,” Kousky said. “Lots of areas are at risk of flooding.”

    People without flood insurance will have to rely on FEMA aid, which is capped at $72,000 but usually results in payments of less than $10,000.

    When flash flooding devastated eastern Kentucky in July and August, only about 2 percent of the households in the flooded area had flood insurance (Climatewire, Aug. 9).

    FEMA has given $73 million in disaster aid to 7,800 Kentucky residents — an average of about $9,350 each.

  • 2 дня, 10 часов назад 01.10.2022Energy & Environment
    4 things holding back restoration of Florida’s electric grid

    The restoration of power in Florida after Hurricane Ian faces a host of obstacles, including floodwaters and wreckage blocking crews from getting to the hardest-hit areas.

    It’s also up against history: The state’s utilities have spent years trying to make their electric systems more resilient to extreme weather, only to see Ian’s 150 mph winds and 12-foot storm surge destroy much of what they built.

    More than 1.6 million Florida customers remained without power Friday evening, after Ian had washed ashore in South Carolina. Blackouts hit more than 300,000 customers in the Carolinas.

    Utility companies still have no estimate of how long it will take to put the lights back on for all those Floridians. Duke Energy Florida said, for example, that wind was still too strong Thursday to deploy bucket trucks to help work on power lines.

    Here are four things to know as Florida works to recover from the Category 4 hurricane:

    If any state is best prepared for hurricanes, it’s arguably Florida.

    The peninsula-shaped state juts out into warm waters with the Atlantic Ocean on its east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west, making it a prime target for tropical storms and hurricanes spinning off the coast of Africa.

    That means Florida, and those in charge of its infrastructure, have had plenty of experience in prepping for storms and cleaning up after them.

    “Florida, because of the nature of the weather that they see, has a lot of experience with this, and as a result, is particularly well prepared,” said Scott Aaronson, a senior vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, the trade group for the nation’s investor-owned electric utilities.

    It took a few hard lessons, however, before the state and its power companies began to make significant changes.

    Back-to-back hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 pummeled Florida, drawing the ire of lawmakers.

    That led state utility regulators to require electric companies to come up with storm-hardening plans that included a more succinct schedule for vegetation management and shoring up areas around hospitals, schools and other critical infrastructure. In some areas, that also meant burying power lines.

    FPL is the state’s largest electric company, serving almost all of Florida’s east coast, much of the southwest and the Panhandle.

    During a period roughly from 2005 to 2015, the utility, among others in the state, worked to replace wooden poles with concrete ones, buried power lines underground and made sure that its infrastructure was “one of the most resilient grids in America,” Garner said.

    Eric Silagy, FPL’s chief executive, said earlier this week it is “indisputable” that the billions of dollars the company has spent on grid hardening since hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 has paid off “significantly” (Energywire, Sept. 28).

    Then came Hurricane Irma. The Category 4 storm plowed through Florida in 2017, leaving millions without power. The storm also led to 12 deaths at a South Florida nursing home after it lost air conditioning.

    FPL alone initially reported 2 million customer outages from Irma, and a spokesperson said the restoration would be the most complex in history for the company and the country (Energywire, Sept. 11, 2017).

    The outcry led state lawmakers to file a number of bills aimed at making the grid more resilient and promoting clean-energy policies designed to keep the lights on during natural disasters. But few of those proposals gained traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

    And as the storms become more intense, the utilities’ improvements haven’t been enough. Electricity officials have stressed this week that it is impossible to have a hurricane-proof power grid.

    “A storm like this is devastating, and it’s going to impact thousands and thousands of people,” Garner said.

    Hurricane Michael, which slammed into Florida’s Panhandle a year after Irma, prompted a new effort by Florida’s electric companies to make their grids more resilient to natural disasters. For FPL, that has meant continuing to replace any remaining wooden poles with steel or concrete ones and working on cheaper ways to bury more of its distribution system.

    Now worries are emerging about the supply of critical electrical components.

    Electric companies maintain what’s known in the industry as a “storm stock” — hundreds of thousands of poles, transformers and other supplies as they plan for major storms. The increase in intensity of hurricanes is just one reason the industry has raised concerns about a “misalignment” of supply and demand, EEI’s Aaronson said (Energywire, Aug. 22).

    A host of factors added to concerns about the supply chain, he said — including investments in the clean energy transition, labor issues, inflation, the war in Ukraine and the recovery from the pandemic.

    The average lead time to procure distribution transformers jumped from roughly two to three months to a year between 2020 and 2022, according to municipal power providers that are members of the American Public Power Association.

    “What we’re hearing from our members is that when faced with a major outage event, things get tight,” said Tobias Sellier, an APPA spokesperson. “When you look at multiple events, it gets really concerning.”

    Indeed, one-quarter of the public power utilities that responded to APPA’s survey reported “high risk” of running out of stock of at least one voltage class of transformers.

    “With the long lead times we’re seeing, the concern is that even with sharing (resources), eventually the stock will run out before these long-lead orders come in,” Sellier said.

    Florida’s electric companies said Ian’s flying debris, tornadoes, life-threatening storm surge and floods created significant challenges in repairing and rebuilding the grid.

    Gov. Ron DeSantis said this week that crews would be clearing debris and trees from roadways to allow utility trucks to pass through so they could get to restoration sites quickly.

    In addition to wind, flooding in Central Florida also has been a challenge, said Duke Energy Florida, which supplies electricity to St. Petersburg and much of central and northwestern Florida.

    Tampa Electric Co. said downed trees and debris presented obstacles in some places.

    Electric companies began restoring electricity, when possible, even as Ian’s winds were building Tuesday and continued after the storm made landfall Wednesday. Thursday was the first day it was safe to begin assessing damage to power plants, solar arrays and the rest of the power grid, however.

    Heavy rain and flooding as well as the continued threat of tornadoes are “still challenges that we’re still grappling with across the state,” FPL’s Garner said Thursday.

    Ian’s damage was catastrophic in some parts of Florida.

    Along the coast in Fort Myers, homes and businesses were ripped off their foundations and reduced to rubble, and fires were burning in some of the wreckage. A section of a causeway leading to Sanibel Island, where more than 6,000 people normally live, collapsed into the water and left the community cut off.

    As it surged inland, the storm dumped more than a foot of rain into areas that had already been saturated, leading to heavy flooding as far inland as Orlando, more than 100 miles from the landfall site on the Gulf Coast.

    The National Weather Service said Ian was tied with other storms as the fifth-strongest hurricane to hit the U.S., and the data firm RMS said flooding tied to the storm will likely set records.

    Tidal gauges near Naples recorded their highest levels in the 50 years that data has been collected, RMS said.

    The Peace River reached a record-high level near the town of Zolfo Springs, which is more than 50 miles inland, and the water was still rising in some areas, said Jeff Waters, a staff product manager at RMS.

    “A lot of these rivers haven’t even crested yet, and some of them are already at records,” he said in an interview.

    Waters cautioned that it’s difficult to tell if climate change is driving a trend of busy hurricane seasons in recent years. Ian’s damage, though, fits with what scientists have predicted for a warmer world: stronger and wetter hurricanes, though not necessarily more of them.

    “This business about very, very heavy rain is something we’ve expected to see because of climate change,” said Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We’ll see more storms like Ian.”

    The storm could give Florida a chance to build a more resilient grid, said Christopher Burgess, a researcher at RMI, the clean energy firm formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute.

    Utility companies could incorporate more solar power and batteries onto their systems, which can be turned on more quickly after a shutdown, he said. And they could divide the grid into smaller segments, which will allow them to bring homes and businesses back online faster.

    The Inflation Reduction Act passed this year by Congress, H.R. 5376 (117), includes billions of dollars in funding for renewable energy and upgrades to electric transmission systems around the country.

    “We’re going to be able to redesign the grid, put all kinds of other options in the grid,” Burgess said.

    The drumbeat of stronger hurricanes should be a wake-up call, even for states like Florida that have a history of preparing for storms, said Alison Silverstein, a former staffer at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who studies grid issues.

    Companies and governments should assess their vulnerabilities over a 20- to 40-year period and plan for the worst, she said.

    “The stakes aren’t just about dollars here, they’re about human lives and misery and societal and economic well-being, and the cost of additional climate change preparation and mitigation pales next to the costs of failing to do so,” Silverstein said in email.

    This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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