Florida Senate approves bill that will require utilities to bury lines

Bill seeks to ease post-storm power outages

SARASOTA (WWSB) - In order to ease post storm outages, the Florida Senate passed a bill that would make utility companies come up with a 10-year plan to strengthen and bury power lines. It also means Floridians can expect to see an increase on their electricity bill.

It’s been almost two years since Hurricane Irma hit parts of the state. The catastrophic storm knocked out power for thousands of homes in the area.

“We had power outages for almost 11 days,” said Ed McCrane, Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief. “There was a lot of tree damage, a lot of debris, traffic signals not working, water disruption.”

Now, many have started preparing for another hurricane season, including lawmakers. The State Senate voted in favor of Senate Bill 796 on Friday. This bill will require power companies to plan long term to strengthen and bury power lines.

The vote overwhelmingly passed with 37 votes in favor and 2 against.

“Right now if a storm hits Florida, a third of our state goes out, we would lose a billion dollars a day,” said Sarasota County State Senator Joe Gruters, who sponsored the bill.

The cost to harden lines would be passed on to customers. It would be a separate item on their bills, rather than through a general rate increase. That means all customers would pay the same, regardless of how much power they use. Gruters says this cost would be minimal compared to the long term costs of continually repairing damaged lines after hurricanes.

“In the short term you might pay a little more but in the long term you’ll pay a lot less because everyone suffers when power goes out,” he said.

While this bill received the majority of bipartisan support, there’s still some who oppose this, such as the AARP. However, Gruters say this will help residents get their power back faster, than before.

“It’s about being prepared, and trying to make sure that we have one of the strongest most resilient electrical grids in the entire country, because it’s about making sure we get power restored as fast as we possibly can,” he said.

A similar bill is also in the House and has been postponed for a final vote.

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