Backlash Mounts Against Xcel Energy’s Unprecedented Power Reduction Strategy During Windy Weather!

Xcel Energy-Colorado implemented an unprecedented measure to mitigate the risk of wildfires caused by strong winds that ravaged the Front Range over the weekend: power outages in certain areas. This course of action incited a flurry of concerns.

When forecasts called for sustained winds of up to 55 mph along the Interstate 25 corridor and wind gusts of up to 100 mph along the foothills from Saturday to Sunday, Xcel, the largest electric utility in Colorado, began to contemplate a proactive power outage on Friday. The electricity supply was interrupted for approximately 55,000 customers across six municipalities on Saturday afternoon due to the high winds.

Approximately 150,000 Xcel customers experienced power outages, which were caused by wind damage or precautionary line shutdowns. The utility reported 722 disruptions impacting 15,208 customers as of 6 p.m. on Monday.

Xcel Energy anticipated restoring 90 percent of the power by Monday’s end and the remaining capacity on Tuesday.

“We are cognizant of the fact that this presents difficulty and adversity for a portion of our clientele,” Xcel Energy-Colorado president Robert Kenney stated.

In an effort to reduce the risk of wildfires, the company proactively severed power in Colorado for the first time at this time. Customers of Xcel who experienced power outages have lodged complaints regarding the insufficient notification they received and the company’s poor performance in providing updates.

Boulder officials stated that the city was taken off guard when two electrical substations that power a wastewater treatment facility lost power. Employees were required to act swiftly to prevent effluent from entering Boulder Creek, which allowed the city to request that Xcel activate one of the substations.

In light of the elongated wildfire season caused by the warming and drying climate, power companies are progressively adopting the strategy of preemptive shutdowns.

The Dec. 30, 2021, Marshall fire in Louisville, Superior, and portions of unincorporated Boulder County was fueled by a combination of exceptionally dry conditions and ferociously strong gusts. Two individuals were killed, 1,084 homes and businesses were destroyed, and the fire caused property damage in excess of $2 billion.

Authorities in Boulder County determined through an investigation that the fire originated in two locations: on the property of the Twelve Tribes religious sect, where embers rekindled from an earlier fire; and in the vicinity of a portion of Xcel’s electrical distribution system, where a power line became detached.

Concerning the fire, nearly 300 lawsuits have been filed against Xcel Energy by homeowners, local governments, and retail behemoth Target. Xcel refutes the claim that one of the fires that merged into a single massive wildfire was ignited by its apparatus.

However, in Texas, where a fire that began in February has consumed over one million acres, Xcel Energy has stated that its facilities may have been a contributor to the fire. The business was sued by a homeowner.

Complaints on social media regarding Xcel’s weekend decision to cut power in portions of the Front Range allege that the company was acting in an attempt to avert further litigation.

Kenney stated unequivocally, “We are undertaking this action to safeguard the public from wildfire conditions.” “While it is evident that no one enjoys being sued or desires to be sued, this serves as a mechanism to ensure public safety.”

Kenney stated that Xcel’s decision was influenced in part by meteorologists’ forecasts. Additionally, the organization assessed the moisture and humidity levels within the local vegetation. Utilizing computer models, the meteorological conditions were plotted and potential fire outbreak locations were identified.

Warnings with the color flag by the National Weather Service indicated a high probability of wildfires occurring. In portions of Boulder County, gusts exceeding 90 mph were recorded, according to the weather service.

Customers were informed by Xcel on Friday evening that their power may be disconnected on Saturday. Kenney stated that the company contacted the 55,000 consumers via direct phone call, email, and again on Saturday morning, informing them of the decision to turn off their electricity.

Eben Forrest, proprietor of the Pearl Street location of the Terracotta plant store and design consulting firm, estimated that the interruption of Xcel’s electricity caused approximately $5,000 in losses for his company. Until the company affirmed the shutdown, he was uncertain of how to proceed with the events he had scheduled for the weekend.

“I wish additional information were readily accessible.” “I felt that it was rather ambiguous,” Forrest remarked.

“An insurmountable volume of customer feedback requested that we provide more advance notice than the previous evening.” “We are incorporating feedback that we hear loud and clear into our systems,” Kenney explained.

Kenney stated that over 500 employees were restoring power on Monday. He stated that restoring power to the disconnected lines requires more than simply toggling a switch. Workers were required to visually inspect and repair 600 miles of power lines prior to restoring power.

As of now, it is unknown whether any of the precautionary lines that were turned off experienced blowdowns or sustained damage.

Sarah Huntley, representing the Boulder Office of Disaster Management, stated that communities expect utilities to prioritize the protection of the public. She stated that personnel swiftly extinguished small fires that were reportedly started by downed lines when the power was restored.

Prior to turning off the power to prevent wildfires, utilities should assess unintended consequences, according to Huntley. She made reference to the incident in northeast Boulder where the two substations that supply power to the wastewater treatment facility were without power.

“Upon the de-energization of both substations, the facility experienced a temporary state of inoperability, thereby introducing the possibility of raw sewage overflow into Boulder Creek,” Huntley explained.

Hunley stated that this could have contaminated the potable water supply for communities downstream.

“Fortunately, our utility personnel were exceptionally astute and resolved the problem by redirecting wastewater to a tank that was offline for construction,” Huntley explained. “This allowed sufficient time for us to engage in dialogue with Xcel and for them to activate one of the facility’s power sources.”

Huntley stated that Xcel Energy and local governments are discussing ways to improve future communication. She stated that local administrations possessed “extremely limited information” regarding the potentially impacted electrical system components.

Tyler Bryant, a spokesman for Xcel Energy, stated that the organization collaborated extensively with the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center prior to the electricity being turned off.

Bryant stated, “Due to our relationship with Boulder County EOC, we were able to energize the electric line that supplies the wastewater treatment plant in a timely manner.”


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