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Keeping the power on

Published Feb. 27, 2006

Floridians are looking to the Public Service Commission to take several steps today to brace the state for the coming hurricane season. The PSC staff wants the electric companies to strengthen their transmission networks, more frequently trim trees around power lines and explore whether putting facilities underground makes sense for a storm-prone state. These reasonable precautions could save grief and money in the long run. The PSC should approve them and require the utilities to pay the tab.

The heightened hurricane activity, which experts predict will continue for years, has already caused governments and homeowners to better prepare for severe back-to-back storms. The power companies should be no exception. An extended loss of power raises safety concerns and slows the recovery.

The commission staff is right to call for more preventive maintenance. By trimming trees and inspecting power lines more often, utilities could reduce the number and length of power failures. The PSC staff made a strong case that the electric companies have not worked hard enough to keep downed debris and equipment from causing preventable outages. They want a "readiness" report from the companies every year detailing the state of their equipment. They also want a deadline for utilities to replace wooden power poles with steel or concrete supports, and a more aggressive regimen for inspecting high-voltage transmission lines.

The PSC staff deserves credit for framing this as a priority and for looking ahead to larger storm-mitigation efforts. It wants the commission to examine the costs and benefits of having power lines withstand the 111-plus-mph winds of a Category 3 hurricane and consider placing electric facilities underground. But the immediate task is getting utilities to better maintain what's already here. The public has paid for this infrastructure once and should not face a surcharge for what amounts to sound maintenance.