Current Light Flashes
The official voice of West Florida Electric Cooperative:
What Causes Your Power Outages?
Countless West Florida Electric Cooperative (WFEC) members have voiced their concerns, shared personal experiences, and frustrations over the frequency of power disruptions - especially in recent years after Hurricane Michael. WFEC wants our members to know we hear you and take this matter as seriously as you. Cooperative staff has been exploring the underlying causes of these power outages and seeking solutions to ensure a more reliable and robust electrical infrastructure for the future.
Several articles discussing the challenges faced by the co-op to maintain approximately 4,800 miles of overhead powerlines in the co-op's four-county service area have been published and shared with our members. But, those articles have not gone into detail about the primary causes of outages - especially those associated with rights-of-way.
From January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2022, the four years following Hurricane Michael, the following issues were the primary causes of outages throughout WFEC's service area:
40% Right-of-Way Issues: These outages are caused primarily by dead trees, limbs on lines, tree growth, etc.
35% Weather: These outages are caused by lightning, wind, or other weather-related issues (which contributes to right-of-way issues).
11% Animals: These outages are caused by squirrels, birds, snakes, or other animals coming into contact with lines or equipment.
6% Equipment Failure: These outages are caused by faulty equipment or materials.
6% Accidents: These outages are caused by motor vehicle crashes, fires, heavy equipment, customer-caused, etc.
2% Planned Outages: These outages are caused by construction, maintenance, or line/equipment upgrades performed by the cooperative.
The top three outage causes are right-of-way issues, weather, and animals. Of the right-of-way outages, 7% of them were caused by falling trees and/or limbs. The overwhelming majority are due to leaning trees and dead limbs that can be directly attributed to Hurricane Michael, which even nearly 5 years later still plague the area.
Considering that WFEC is in Florida, the lightning capital of the United States, it is no surprise that 93% of the weather-related outages were caused by lightning. The third largest cause of outages in WFEC's service area are caused by animals - this can be directly attributed to the rural nature of the cooperative's service area and the abundance of wildlife living in the area.
So, what is WFEC doing to mitigate some of these problems? Adding devices like fuses and reclosers, and upgrading existing lines and equipment. This is an on-going process - linecrews continually work to do this as part of maintaining the cooperative's distribution system.
Maintaining a distribution system with 4,800 miles of line is a challenge in itself. Cutting, trimming and trouble-shooting that many miles of right-of-way creates an even bigger challenge. To put it in perspective, 4,800 miles of right-of-way is approximately the distance from Jacksonville, Fla. to Los Angeles, Calif. and back.
Another of the steps WFEC is taking to mitigate outages - particularly those caused by right-of-way issues, is implementing an even more aggressive right-of-way program. Before Hurricane Michael, the cooperative was on a four-year right-of-way cutting cycle. Since the storm, this became a 5-year cycle. At this time, the cooperative is moving back to a four-year cutting and maintenance cycle which will help alleviate some of the right-of-way issues caused by trees and limbs falling onto or into powerlines. The cooperative maintains a 30-foot ground-to-sky right-of-way around power lines - that's 15 feet on each side of the lines. Keep in mind that maintaining the cooperative's right-of-way is one of the largest expenses and is an on-going process that just takes time. Florida has a long growing season for vegetation, and additionally, things like lightning and bugs that destroy trees also impact the health of trees near power lines. All of these things play a major role in what the co-op fights against to keep the rights-of-way clear. Another issue we contend with is large trees deep into the woods that often fall and cause a ripple effect knocking other trees or limbs into the power lines or breaking poles.
In addition to the things the cooperative is doing, there is something our members can do to help us. Don't plant trees or other vegetation that will grow to be more than 8 feet tall under or even near power lines. Make sure anything you plant is at least 15 feet away from the lines on each side. Also, if you see any dead or leaning trees near powerlines, let us know by calling the office at 800-342-7400.