13,000 lose power in Pinellas, question if Duke Energy is ready for hurricane season

Around 13,000 people in Pinellas County lost power Tuesday afternoon after breakers at two Duke Energy substations in Largo and St. Petersburg triggered, causing the power to cut off. Six traffic signals in St. Pete also lost power. So what happened?

Duke Energy tells ABC Action News whatever caused the breakers to flip is unknown at this time and they are investigating.   

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Peveeta Persaud, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, says the breakers function a lot like the ones in your home. Sometimes animals can cause the breakers to stop working, which is a way to protect the electrical system and prevent fires.

The outage was puzzling for people who lost power in Pinellas County on a perfectly sunny day. Customers immediately took to Facebook to question if Duke Energy is prepared for Hurricane Season.

Many lost power for several days in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

ABC Action News went straight to Duke Energy to find out.

First off, they say Tuesday’s outage is separate from any efforts to harden their system in time for hurricane season. They say breakers can stop functioning for many reasons and it is a safety feature to ensure millions of dollars in equipment does not get ruined.

“If they sense an issue they will automatically shut off to protect the equipment but also for the safety of our customers and crews,” Persaud explained.

Duke Energy also says Hurricane Irma was “a huge learning lesson for us,” Persaud explained. She says Duke Energy has been targeting areas with persistent power outages and are working now to underground lines in those areas.

Persaud also explained that Duke Energy is working to upgrade to a “smart thinking” grid, which is now in 33% of their system. The grid works similar to a GPS system. If a problem is found in a line, the system will find the issue and reroute energy so fewer customers lose power.

“We’ve made a lot of changes since Hurricane Irma and we continue to harden our system to make it more reliable for our customers,” Persaud explained.

Robert Kay is a St. Pete homeowner who lives in Shore Acres. He’s one of the 13,000 who lost power on Tuesday.

“I was cutting tile for a bathroom repair when all of a sudden the electricity just dies,” he explained. “It’s an inconvenience, but it’s Florida and it happens with all the storms and wildlife here. Get over it,” he said.

He also hopes Duke Energy does all they can to keep the system up and running with another hurricane season in full swing.

“Duke needs the wake-up call every year of saying ‘we are responsible for this. We will stay on task with upgrades,'” Kay added.

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