Cape Coral asked LCEC to delay power restoration, citing safety concerns

After Hurricane Ian tore through Southwest Florida last Wednesday, the city of Cape Coral asked Lee County Electric Cooperative to hold off on restoring the power until that Saturday due to safety concerns.

"The first 48 hours we were doing search and rescue. And while we were doing search and rescue LCEC was doing assessments to see exactly what needed to be done," Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter said Tuesday in an interview.

"The last thing that we want to do is prematurely energize the line and have someone from the community get electrocuted," Gunter added.

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Karen Ryan, public relations director for LCEC, confirmed the utility waited until Cape Coral had finished search and rescue operations before beginning restoration.

As of 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, more than 41% of LCEC's six-county service territory has been restored during the past five days, excluding Sanibel and Pine Island, which are not accessible to line crews.

On Sunday, LCEC said about 5% of its customers in Cape Coral had regained power and promised accelerated restorations.

"We're gonna see progress more quickly now from here," said Denise Vidal, chief executive officer at LCEC.

As of Tuesday morning, 7.5% of its Cape Coral customers had power.

Florida Power & Light, the other electric company that provides service in Lee County, has restored 77% of customers in the county as of Tuesday afternoon.

Bryan Garner, an FPL spokesman, confirmed that FPL began Lee County power restoration a day before Cape Coral on Friday.

"In Lee County, because of the high winds and storm surge, our crews could not begin restoring power until Friday, Sept. 30," Garner said.

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Main circuits in the Cape

Ryan said LCEC did not have any transmission lines that failed as a result of the storm.

"All of our substations were restored the day after the storm passed," she said.

Garner, the FPL spokesman, also told The News-Press his utility did not lose any transmission structures during Hurricane Ian.

"We have hardened almost all (about 99%) of our transmission structures across our service territory with concrete or steel, and that includes all of our transmission in Southwest Florida," Garner wrote in an email.

Ryan said LCEC's electrical restoration has been slow because crews have been working first to restore main circuits, which include hospitals, grocery stores, and the city of Cape Coral Southwest Reverse Osmosis Plant.

Downed power poles block a lane along Skyline Blvd. The city of Cape Coral showed major signs of damage after strong winds and flood waters as a result of Hurricane Ian impacted areas of the city on Thursday September 29, 2022.The city of Cape Coral showed major signs of damage after strong winds and flood waters as a result of Hurricane Ian impacted areas of the city on Thursday September 29, 2022.
Downed power poles block a lane along Skyline Blvd. The city of Cape Coral showed major signs of damage after strong winds and flood waters as a result of Hurricane Ian impacted areas of the city on Thursday September 29, 2022.The city of Cape Coral showed major signs of damage after strong winds and flood waters as a result of Hurricane Ian impacted areas of the city on Thursday September 29, 2022.

However, not all main circuits have been restored as of Tuesday afternoon.

Responding to the seemingly slight rise in restored customers nearly a week after the storm made landfall, Ryan said some main circuits only count as one customer restored, and they've been prioritizing them first.

"Once the main circuits are restored, then we're able to deliver power and reenergize the lines, so the neighborhoods where you can get a larger number of customers, are restored," Ryan said.

Ryan compared the process of fixing the main circuits and restoring the electric grid to fixing a water plant that has broken pipes and cannot send the water where it needs to go.

"If the big huge pipes are broken or not functioning correctly, no water is going to get to the neighborhood," Ryan said.

This means that damaged main circuits must be fixed before neighborhoods can get power.

The city of Cape Coral showed major signs of damage after strong winds and flood waters as a result of Hurricane Ian impacted areas of the city on Thursday September 29, 2022.The city of Cape Coral showed major signs of damage after strong winds and flood waters as a result of Hurricane Ian impacted areas of the city on Thursday September 29, 2022.
The city of Cape Coral showed major signs of damage after strong winds and flood waters as a result of Hurricane Ian impacted areas of the city on Thursday September 29, 2022.The city of Cape Coral showed major signs of damage after strong winds and flood waters as a result of Hurricane Ian impacted areas of the city on Thursday September 29, 2022.

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What's next for LCEC customers?

LCEC has 1,500 crew members servicing their territory in Lee County, and they are adding 500 crew members, which were provided by the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association.

The cooperative estimates 95% restoration for the Cape by Oct. 8.

LCEC will prioritize sending crews where they can get a large swath of customers restored after completing repairs on main circuits.

The extent of the damage and time to restore will also affect where LCEC directs its resources, Ryan said.

"If they can get a large number like 3,000 customers on with a big crew in like two hours, they're gonna go there before they would go to an area where there are 10 customers and it might take six hours to restore," Ryan said.

Luis Zambrano is a Watchdog/Cape Coral reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. You can reach Luis at Lzambrano@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @Lz2official.

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Hurricane Ian: Cape Coral asked LCEC to hold off power restoration