FPL CEO gives utility ‘A’ grade for restoration, ‘C’ for communication after Irma

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Some South Florida residents said they waited too long for their power to return after Hurricane Irma, but in an exclusive interview with 7News, the CEO of Florida Power and Light has come to the company’s defense.

FPL spent $3 billion over the last 10 years strengthening their system, and the CEO said it was worth it after the massive storm.

Some residents grew desperate as they waited for power to return to their homes.

“We’re begging you because this is tragic,” said one resident to FPL.

Tensions have been running hot. “My mother is 72 years old there, and if she dies of heat, I will be suing the [expletive] out of FPL,” said another resident.

FPL CEO Eric Silagy said he understands. “For those customers who are still out, it’s tough, and I understand,” he said.

Almost everyone in South Florida has had their power restored as of Friday, but thousands didn’t get it until after FPL said they would.

“Sunday was a deadline that we actually put on ourselves, you know. It’s an estimation,” said Silagy.

He said FPL managed to restore power to millions within just one day of Hurricane Irma. But so many remained in the dark, including a Hollywood nursing home where a power failure led to hot temperatures and the death of 11 people.

“I understand. They should be upset. It’s very, very heartbreaking to see what happened there,” said Silagy. “I have a mom and understand the challenges of living in a facility where you’re relying on other people to take care of you.”

The state is investigating, and lawmakers are already considering whether nursing homes should get priority for power restoration.

“It’s a good question,” said Silagy. “It’s a hard question to answer because there are tens of thousands in Florida, and I don’t even know how many in Broward. If everything is critical infrastructure, then nothing is critical.”

He said, overall, he is pleased with what he calls the fastest power restoration in U.S. history.

But hiccups have included cities like Coral Gables where Silagy said the city kept FPL from trimming trees ahead of the storm.

“Part of my frustration is that we spent days longer cleaning up the mess in Coral Gables and getting the power on there than we otherwise would have, which means that we had crews tied up there that otherwise could have been getting power on for other people,” he said.

In 2005, Hurricane Wilma knocked out power for about 3.2 million FPL customers, a record at the time. It took 17,500 workers 18 days to fully restore power.

Hurricane Irma left 4.4 million customers in the dark — about 90 percent of all FPL customers. Twenty-nine-thousand workers were called in. After 11 days, FPL said that — aside from some isolated cases — essentially everyone on the grid has their power back.

“For restoration, I’d give [FPL] an ‘A,’ and I think objectively, from a communication standpoint, I’d say, you know, probably a ‘C,'” said Silagy.

According to the CEO, communication was an issue because their mobile app had failed and their website was slow to load when customers needed it the most.

Silagy said those are issues the company will start working on immediately.

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