IRMA: Duke Energy State President addresses Irma problems

By Josh Rojas, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, September 18, 2017, 8:42 PM EDT

Duke Energy Florida President Harry Sideris said it took longer in some cases to restore power to customers because Hurricane Irma did more damage than the utility predicted.

  • Sideris: Irma worst storm company has faced in Florida
  • Storm impacted all 35 counties company operates in
  • Sideris also apologized for bills that overestimated usage

“We have models that our meteorologists run that show what the impacts would've been,” Sideris said. “We were predicting about 1 million customers out. We ended up with 1.3(M).”

Sideris said Irma was the worst storm the company has felt in Florida, impacting all 35 counties that Duke operates in. Duke Energy brought 12,000 additional crews to work the aftermath, and by Monday had more than 99 percent of power restored to 22 of those counties, including Pinellas and Pasco.

“We have about 1,000 people in Pinellas and Pasco Counties finalizing the last few that may be out," said Sideris. "We've been working non-stop tirelessly for the last week restoring power safely and as fast as we can to our customers trying to get their lives back to normal."

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called Duke Energy “irresponsible” and gave customers “false hope” for missing a Friday deadline to have power restored to all customers. Sideris said the utility gave out the best information possible at the time and ran into some unknown issues.

"A lot of trees down, a lot of the issues that we ran into were the lines that run in the back of people's houses, we couldn't get our bucket trucks back there,” he said. “We had to do a lot of pole climbing, which takes longer and that's why we weren't able to make those dates that we set."

Sideris also said he was sorry Duke Energy unnecessarily added to some customers hurricane stress by sending out estimated bills that were three times higher than normal.

"We apologize for that. It was a technical glitch in the math and it ended up tripling the bill,” he said. “We've corrected that algorithm error and we are working with our customers as they call in."

Sideris said any customer who got an estimated bill should not pay it and that auto draft payments were turned off. Meter readers are going out this week and customers will soon receive a correct bill.

Sideris said Irma also caused technical glitches in the system that didn’t allow it to update properly, which caused some customers to report their outage a second time as if it were a new outage.

"Irma was a monster and with 1.3 million outages statewide, it over-flooded our system, which caused a lot of I.T. issues,” he said. "I'm happy to say that we got that system back in service and we're reconciling our manual processes."