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LAKELAND, FL-The first phase of Publix Supermarkets’ $100 million plan to install 400 powerful generators at stores in hurricane-prone areas is nearing completion, the program to be fully in place by next July.

All of Publix’s 882 stores have backup generators in the event of power loss, but the new units will increase the power available to each store more than eight-fold, from 60 kilowatts to 500 kilowatts.

“The [current units] have limited power, and run limited light and refrigeration. The new units are much larger. They will be able to power the entire store,” said Maria Brous, Publix director of media and community relations.

Planning for the new generators began in 2004, when a series of hurricanes buffeted Florida, she said. Not only did the store lose perishables despite some backup power, some suppliers declined to ship to Florida, fearing truckers would be trapped by another storm. Last year was no better — the company suffered $60 million in storm-related product losses.

“This was an opportunity to fix that,” Brous said. “It is a way to keep our inventory stable, and for our warehouses to keep additional supplies.”

The program includes both stationary and mobile generators, the latter of which can be moved by Publix where needed. The permanent generators, supplied by Wake Forest, N.C.-based PowerSecure, have automatic turn-on sensors, and hold 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The mobile generators, holding 860 gallons of fuel, are mounted on trailers, and almost literally are plug-and-play. The company determined which stores would receive the new generators by researching historical weather patterns, predictions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and stores’ histories.

The plan called for one-third of the 400 units to be ready this July, with the remainder to be installed through July 2007. Publix will “be close” to the original July deadline for the first phase, Brous said. “The number changes day by day, because we have to get approvals from municipalities and landlords.”

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