NextEra Energy’s FPL Unit Stakes Reputation on Sept. 17 Restoration Deadline

FPL says power will be back by Sept. 17Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida on Sunday and Monday, leaving millions of people without power.  While NextEra Energy’s FPL unit is without question working diligently to get the lights back on, it has done a lousy job of providing details or progress reports to its suffering customers.  Even though technological advances might suggest real-time updates could be found online, FPL has instead drawn an ambitious line in the sand and said that all customers in its East Coast zone (which includes the state’s largest concentration of residents in Miami and Fort Lauderdale) will have power restored by the end of the day on September 17.  Residents in the West Coast zone should be back by September 22.

For the sake of my sweltering home, the body odor of my neighbors and the reputation of FPL, I hope they are true to their word.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Hurricanes and the power outages they create really suck, for the customers and the power companies alike.  Having been through many extended outages from named storms including the big dog Andrew, Wilma, Jean and now Irma, I can tell you that the experience falls somewhere between being on Tom Hanks’s island in Castaway and the post-apocalyptic world in the original Road Warrior (maybe the remake too, but I never saw it.)  You’re hot, sweaty and cranky while regularly scavenging for essentials like water, gasoline and ice (I wish.)  It’s not pleasant no matter how many times you experience it.

Twelve years ago, while waiting 11 days for my power to be restored after Hurricane Wilma, I wrote what might have been my first blog post. It was largely a tirade about being without power while my neighbor across the street had theirs back after four days.  Imagine trying to sleep in a 90-plus-degree home, sweating and miserable, only to be blinded by the porch light of your neighbor’s home that has been energized for a week.  I complained that we should bury power lines in South Florida and use technology to make recovery quicker and less painful.  Back then, pre-iPhone and many ingenious apps, customers of companies like NextEra Energy were literally and figuratively in the dark about power restoration.  Sadly, it’s no different today.

FPL’s website and online apps have been overwhelmed during the power outage.  The website actually crashed on Tuesday. Yes, you can find out how many overall homes have been restored down to the county level, but how your individual home is faring is completely unknown.  I’m puzzled by this.

Apps like Waze can tell us about traffic in our neighborhoods and websites like help us find nearby fuel in a time of crisis.  Uber knows exactly where my itinerant driver is but FPL doesn’t know the status of my electricity?  As consumers today, we expect real-time information and transparency.  FPL is offering neither – this despite rate increases and ongoing claims that their grid is “smart” and that they know where the outages are.

If NextEra Energy’s FPL shared its information, perhaps letting customers know that lines are down in their neighborhood or situations are dangerous for its workers, then we might feel more sympathetic.  To me, it seems like the power company should let the data it (hopefully) has help tell the story and assist in communicating its message.

Instead, the company is telling hundreds of thousands of customers that everything will be back in working order Sunday night.  When it could be providing transparency to its clients, the company has chosen one, grand sweeping answer.  It’s a risky move.  The company’s reputation, and my next hot shower, depend on it.