Duke Energy is facing tough questions about missed deadlines and poor communication in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The company is now promising to make improvements before the next major outage.
Duke plans to focus on under grounding power lines and adding automated meters so they don’t have to rely on customers to tell them when their power is out.
They also plan to take a close look at their IT system to make sure their automated system does not go down in the next big storm.
1.3 million of Duke Energy’s 1.8 million customers lost power. Duke Energy pushed back their final deadlines three times.
Harry Sideris, the state president of the company explained to a group of journalists Monday, “We apologize for that. I know people get frustrated when they think it’s gonna come on and it doesn’t, but they also get frustrated if you say it’s gonna be next Wednesday and you can do better than that.”
Duke says they had more trouble than anticipated.
One reason: Power lines in the back of people’s homes, which made it nearly impossible to get bucket trucks where they needed them. They often relied on linemen to climb the poles, which is a more lengthy restoration process.
Then, their automated system shut down.
“Our customers expect and deserve better from us. Our customers are angry and frustrated that we could not provide them better information,” Sideris stated in a company press release.
Bob Wareham, the owner of Jungle Prada Tavern is one customer hoping Duke makes improvements before the next hurricane. His restaurant is now back open after 8 days in the dark. They lost $10,000 in food.
"I can't imagine if we actually got a category 3 hurricane here. We'd have been out of power for months and that's unacceptable,” Wareham explained.
Wareham’s restaurant was one of the last businesses to regain electricity in St Pete.
Just down the street in Jungle Prada, Chuck Bessellieu also lost power for more than a week. The outage was not only uncomfortable for him, but dangerous.
"I'm diabetic. I had to keep my insulin at my brothers house in his refrigerator because we didn’t have one to use,” he said.
He called Duke to ask about about his power several times, “To the point they would say ‘Don't call. We have your outage.’”
Duke leaders say they’re working hard to correct the many issues Hurricane Irma presented.
"Customers will hold you to it. Duke went down in people's minds. What they did to promise deadlines they could not meet was wrong,” Bessellieu added.
“They have a monopoly. We can't call another power company to switch over because this didn't work for us and unfortunately Duke leaders know that,” Wareham explained.
Duke says they’re working with St. Petersburg and Pinellas County leaders to figure out what they can do better to handle major storms in the future.