The Associated Press
MIAMI — A problem with Florida’s electrical grid caused a nuclear plant to automatically shut down Tuesday and intermittently cut power to up to 3 million people from Daytona Beach through the Florida Keys.
Authorities said there were no safety concerns at the nuclear plant. While many areas were hit hard, the outages were short lived and only 20,000 people lacked electricity during the evening commute home.
An equipment malfunction in a substation near Miami disabled two power distribution lines between Miami and Daytona Beach, and in response, the Turkey Point nuclear plant south of Miami stopped operating around 1 p.m., Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Kenneth Clark said.
“We don’t know the nature of the equipment malfunction,” he said.
A Florida Power & Light spokesman initially said its nuclear plant caused the outages to about a fifth of Florida’s population. But the utility’s nuclear spokesman, Dick Winn, later said grid problems caused both reactors at the plant to shut down between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. Two coal-burning power plants at Turkey Point also shut down, authorities said.
“All the safety systems worked just like they were supposed to and both of those units are in stable condition right now,” Winn said.
Power was already restored in some places by early afternoon and was estimated to be fully restored by 6 p.m.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said the outages were technical, not criminal.
“It’s a matter of just a cascading effect,” he said.
The Homeland Security Department said the outages had no connection to terrorism, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the reactors automatically shut down as designed.
The commission said based on reports from its resident inspectors at the plant, it was not immediately known what caused the initial drop in voltage from outside Turkey Point. But when the two reactors shut down it would have worsened the problem.
Florida emergency management officials said the outages cut power to about 2-3 million people, although FPL said the number was closer to 800,000. FPL estimated power should be restored by 6 p.m.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has responsibility for electricity grid reliability, said it wants to know whether there were any violations of federal grid reliability rules.
The sporadic outages spanned 300 miles of the peninsula but appeared to be concentrated in the southeast portion of the state, including Miami. Communities along the southwest coast, in the Florida Keys and as far north as Daytona Beach reported interruptions.
The outages began shortly after 1 p.m., though power in some affected areas had been restored an hour later.
Several Miami-area hospitals switched to backup generators when the power went out. Miami-Dade schools were scheduled to be dismissed on time, and officials said school buses would be running.
In Miami’s western suburb of Doral, Panera Bread bakery servers enjoyed the unexpected smoking break at the height of the midday rush-hour, while their manager grumbled over lost sales. At a Starbucks down the block, employees began handing out sandwiches they feared would go bad.
Nelson Suarez, 35, a manager for Asia sales at World Fuel Services, enjoyed the free lunch.
“I can’t work anyway since all the power is out, so at least something good came out of this,” he said.
Jaime Hernandez, a spokesman for Miami-Dade County Department of Emergency Management, said the county was partially activating its emergency operations center. He said no injuries had been reported.
By 2 p.m., most of downtown Miami appeared to be back to normal operation, including a campus of Miami Dade College and numerous stores and businesses. In the Florida Keys, spokesman Andy Newman said areas were without power for about 15 minutes, but it was back up as well.
Afternoon traffic was even more miserable than usual in the Miami area as many stop lights briefly were without power. The outages occurred on a day when temperatures soared into the mid-80s and Floridians needed their air conditioning.
An official at the Miami International Airport said the facility was working on a generator backup but that no airline delays were reported.