Sticker shock zaps Broward’s plan to curb hurricane power outages

If a hurricane strikes South Florida this year, be prepared for prolonged power outages.

Little progress has been made since Hurricane Irma two years ago in dealing with the main culprit of knocked-out electricity: trees, vegetation and other debris being blown onto power lines. While Florida Power & Light is making its electrical grid more resilient to help restore power faster, the system remains vulnerable to damage from the massive amounts of trees and vegetation planted underneath or close to power lines.

Broward County came up with a possible solution last year, one that it said could be a model for cities and other local governments, but it was recently short-circuited by a lack of cash.

Commissioners passed a tough law in May requiring people living in unincorporated areas to remove problem trees and vegetation or face fines. It also restricted residents from planting trees near power lines, based on how tall the trees were expected to grow, using FPL’s Right Tree, Right Place program for guidance.

“FPL clears main power lines every three years and neighborhood lines every six years, on average,” Orlove said. “The company trims 15,000 miles of vegetation from power lines each year — the distance of a round trip from Miami to Tokyo.” It spends more than $60 million a year on tree trimming and vegetation management.

Sharief pushed for the law after personally enduring 10 days without power at her Miramar home following Irma. Sharief says she did her part by making sure her trees were trimmed appropriately, but that didn’t help because of neighbors who hadn’t trimmed theirs.

Almost 2.5 million homes and businesses lost power during Irma in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, roughly 90 percent of FPL’s customers.

The county is now looking for a different approach. It’s not going to put the removal cost all at once on homeowners.