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Energy Impacts of Hurricane Irma

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As the impacts of Hurricane Irma continue to resound across the South, many people are wondering just how far that impact ran. What energy impact did Hurricane Irma really have across the United States? This major storm has had widespread effects that will take quite some time to disperse completely. As in many areas of the Southern United States right now, it will take some time for the energy industry to recover from this super storm. Fortunately, most providers are hard at work restoring power, increasing transportation ability across the state, and ensuring that restoration efforts will be able to begin as soon as possible.

Power Outages

One of the biggest concerns of many individuals is how soon they will get their power back--and how many people are actually without power. Across the state of Florida, Hurricane Irma knocked down power lines and tore through trees at an unprecedented level, leaving more residents across the state without power than ever before. At the peak of Hurricane Irma, it's estimated that as many as 15 million residents were without power throughout the state of Florida--an unfortunate reality in a state where temperatures are still climbing into the 90's on a daily basis.

Without electricity moving through the lines, it's difficult to fully begin the reconstructive process in many areas of Florida. Not only do the very young and the very old continue to be at risk from the extreme heat, but it's not possible to chill food, cook with traditional stoves or microwaves, or even get the washing machine up and running in an effort to deal with the laundry accumulated over days away from home. Other facilities like nursing homes have struggled both with the lack of cooling and with difficulty in running magnetic locks and other vital features that help keep their residents safe. Unfortunately, the lack of power continues to be widespread. At the last report, approximately 48% of the customers in Florida were still without power, with around 4,788,277 total outages.

The continuing lack of power is not limited to Florida alone. Hurricane Irma's far-reaching effects have run across the South, leaving residents of many states without power. In Georgia, approximately 22% of the state was still without power as of Tuesday, or a total of 932,587 outages. North Carolina (56,834 customer outages), South Carolina (140,759 customer outages) and Alabama (20,050 customer outages) also continue to feel the effects of the storm. 

This lack of power, however, shouldn't leave people feeling hopeless. Luckily, the various power companies are working hard to restore power in each of the affected states, which are all seeing consistent renewal when compared to earlier reports. As restoration efforts continue throughout the affected states, increasing numbers of individuals will find that they have access to electricity once again. At this time, it is predicted that power will be restored to Florida's East Coast by September 17 and Florida's West Coast by September 22, allowing residents the ability to start returning home and taking care of cleanup. Duke Energy Florida reports that it may take as much as a week to restore power to  Pinellas, Orange, Seminole, Volusia, and Highlands counties, which were hit hard by the hurricane; Kissimmee Utility, on the other hand, has already restored power to more than 80% of its customer base and hopes to continue improving service in the coming days. 

When it comes to turning the lights back on to as many people as possible, as soon as possible, restoration crews are facing some difficulties. This includes:

  • Incredible damage to vegetation, much of which has ended up on top of power lines and must be cleared before power can be restored.
  • The need to completely rebuild parts of the system before power can be restored.
  • Flooding, particularly in areas like Jacksonville, where some streets held as much as four feet of water following the height of the storm--and will take time to recede completely.
  • A lack of cell service in some areas of Florida following the aftermath of the storm, which makes it difficult for line crews to communicate with others in the area.

Across the state of Florida, in particular, power companies are seeking to bring in line crews from out of state in an effort to help restore power as soon as possible. These efforts will continue for the coming days. 


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Gas Prices

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Many people are concerned with the rise in gas prices as Hurricane Irma closely followed Hurricane Harvey, leaving many areas struggling to transport gas. Gas shortages throughout Florida as many individuals chose to evacuate the state ahead of the coming storms also caused prices to rise in many areas--as much as 25 cents nationwide in a week. This is the most extreme gas price gain seen since Hurricane Katrina, thanks to the destruction following Hurricane Harvey and fears concerning continued destruction after Hurricane Irma. Luckily, Hurricane Irma's destructive path wasn't as severe as initially anticipated. While it will take time to restore full functionality to many ports and pipelines, gas prices are beginning to fall again as the industry adjusts to the fact that the destruction wasn't as bad as expected. It's also helpful that Hurricane Irma didn't follow a path likely to impact refineries or oil and gas producers, which allows those operations to continue recovering from Hurricane Harvey instead of shifting their focus to new damages and challenges. 

While Hurricane Irma's impact may not have reached as many refineries or oil and gas producers, it did heavily impact ports and waterways across the state of Florida. As of Tuesday, many ports across the Key West and Miami areas were still closed altogether, as were ports in Jacksonville. Others were open, but with restrictions on what they're able to transport and how many ships they're able to handle--a significant difficulty for the movement of transportation fuels, which will also be a vital part of the restoration process. 

Unfortunately, several oil refineries continue to be shut down in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which will continue to have an impact on this vital sector. While some refineries are starting to restore operations, many will be at reduced capacity for some time before they're able to get everything back up and running completely. As a result, gas prices will continue to stay higher than before the hurricanes hit across the United States.

Thanks to the shortages caused by closed ports and closed refineries across the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, many proponents are finding that it's time to take a closer look at the Jones Act, which requires that ships transporting materials between US ports be built in the United States, manned by United States citizens, and owned by United States companies. This act has been temporarily repealed in order to help move vital oil, gas, and other materials through Florida as quickly as possible in the wake of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. 

The energy impact of Hurricane Irma has been severe throughout Florida and much of the South. Fortunately, crews are working hard to restore both power and fuel as soon as possible in those critical areas. The number of people without power continues to drop every day, and as more ports open and transportation across the state becomes easier, the energy impact will continue to drop.

 

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Posted: September 15, 2017

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