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Hurricane Ian: About 600,000 Floridians without power, Duke Energy exec says

Duke Energy Florida State President Melissa Seixas joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the impacts of Hurricane Ian, restoring energy, and ongoing damages.

Video Transcript

BRAD SMITH: Well, one thing that is awful right now is the weather, as we're keeping our eyes on the weather system that has Florida on alert. Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm, but has left over 2 million people without power. And as those affected will be trying to rebound from the storm, one of the companies working to repair and restore energy across the state is Duke Energy.

And joining us now, we've got Melissa Seixas, who is the Duke Energy state president of Florida. Melissa, thanks for taking the time here today. We do know that this is an extremely strenuous time for yourself, for your team. Can you just walk us through some of the efforts that have been ongoing at this point in time and what you're immediately responding to in Florida?

MELISSA SEIXAS: Absolutely. We actually started this planning process late last week. And of course, we train all year long for this. But what we have underway right now is across the state of Florida, we serve about 35 counties, about 2 million customers. We have approximately 600,000 customers without service, mostly in the Tampa Bay Area and then the central parts of Florida, where the storm track has moved across the state.

But we have been able to restore about 85,000 customers since yesterday. And we have damage assessment underway, primarily in the Tampa Bay Area, also because that was the first area to see the weather. And then we are actually restoring in a lot of places as well. So we are out there. We are staged. We have 10,000 resources across the state. And they're ready to work.

JULIE HYMAN: Melissa, talk to me about what the grid looks like in Florida. Just looking at your map of power generation, you guys are pretty evenly split between solar and natural gas generation there. So talk to me about the status of the generation sites. And also, I'm curious, are lines mostly above ground in Florida? I mean, I don't know what the options are because it's such a-- being below sea level, I don't know how many of the lines you can even bury. So talk to me about the dynamics there as well.

MELISSA SEIXAS: Sure. First, I'll start with the grid. Our grid is stable. Our generation sites are stable. You're correct about natural gas and solar. But we're seeing very low loads right now. Customers who have either evacuated or they're just kind of hunkering down at home may be without power. But our grid is stable. All our operating fleets are operating appropriately.

And then as far as the overhead versus underground, you know, it really depends on the area. We have a combination of both. Overhead, of course, overhead and trees don't really get along too well. So that does allow some of the outages that we are experiencing because of wind and rain.

But underground can also be impacted as well. The ground gets very saturated, but our teams are highly skilled. They know our system well. And so as soon as they are out there, they're going to get the power back onto our customers. Our primary goal is to keep everyone safe and to allow our customers to get back to living their lives. And they want-- they need to do that by having our service.

BRIAN SOZZI: Melissa, you mentioned--

MELISSA SEIXAS: It's a priority for us.

BRIAN SOZZI: Melissa, you mentioned ongoing damage assessments. Your teams are out there. Any sense on how much this might cost a Duke? Is it near the high end of the estimates, low end of the estimates? What's your sense?

MELISSA SEIXAS: Well, right now, of course, we're focused on restoration, but we are very prudent in how we track all of our costs associated with storms. So very mindful of that. We don't really have a sense of what that financial cost will be. But as we move through the process and work with our regulators, we'll always, first and foremost, keep our customers in mind as far as financial impact.

And for us, regardless of the event, we are always here to help our customers. On the financial side, support, we've been doing that aggressively, especially since COVID, and will continue to do that through this process as well.

JULIE HYMAN: And Melissa, of course, part of helping your customers isn't just about reacting to a storm. It's about preparing for a storm and the next storm and the storm after that. I mean, obviously, Florida is in the path of these things, and they are getting worse, right? So what are you guys doing from a long-term perspective to shore up your operations in Florida and in other places that are hit by storms like this? I mean, you guys, obviously, have the South Carolina base, and things like this happen there, too.

MELISSA SEIXAS: Yes, we have different kinds of weather that impact our seven states that we serve. And one of the great things about being part of a large enterprise like Duke Energy is that we are allowed to-- it gives us the opportunity to tap into resources. So we have our colleagues from the Midwest, who have come to Florida as well.

And as I mentioned at the top, we prepare for storms 365 days a year. So that means going into this storm season, we had very specific inventories that were established for events. And we know that most of our severe weather during hurricane season comes in the September, October time frame.

But we are well supplied with poles, wires, overhead transformers, pad mounted transformers. So this is a normal part of our business, is to prepare for a worst case scenario on events. And as I said, we also tap into our other resources in the other states that we serve.

BRAD SMITH: We do know that Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried in Florida, who is also running for governor in Florida, has really called for more renewable energy. What is the net difference that some of those renewable energy changes might make in the future of some of the inclement weather or weather disasters that take place in the state?

MELISSA SEIXAS: Yeah, Duke Energy is aggressively installing renewables solar here in Florida. We just brought two plants on in the last handful of months. With weather events like this, it interferes and interrupts the ability for solar to generate. So we have to always depend on our baseload resources, which are, here in Florida, natural gas.

The key will be the advancement of technology batteries, especially, and how those work with solar. So when the sun is not shining and we're encountering and experiencing weather like we have in the last 24 hours, the batteries will allow us to continue to provide service to our customers. But any asset that we have, or any utility has, that provides generating service to customers has some kind of exposure to weather. So we take all of that into consideration as well.

BRAD SMITH: Melissa Seixas, who is the Duke Energy Florida state president, thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule, especially in the midst--


BRAD SMITH: --of this crisis right now to take some of our questions. Appreciate it.