Xcel institutes controlled power outages across state | PostIndependent.com
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Xcel institutes controlled power outages across state

Temperatures so cold they cut off natural gas supplies at some wells contributed to controlled Xcel Energy power outages that hit the Roaring Fork Valley and other parts of the state Saturday.The outages resulted from a deep freeze in eastern Colorado. Even as furnaces were working overtime to keep homes warm there, freeze-ups were occurring at some natural gas wellheads that supply Xcel, reducing the ability to meet the higher demand, said Xcel spokesman Tom Henley.He said Xcel imposed temporary outages on different parts of the state to avoid a larger-scale blackout.Some locally affected areas included Carbondale, Aspen, Basalt, Battlement Mesa, Vail and Grand Junction.The outages hit many customers of Holy Cross Energy, a Glenwood Springs-based electric utility that gets much of its wholesale power from Xcel. Kent Benham, chief executive officer of Holy Cross, said it’s “very unusual” for a utility to have to impose temporary outages because of a gas shortage. He said he remembers one other time when Holy Cross was notified of the possible need to impose such outages, but they never happened.Henley said he’s not aware of any other circumstances in which Xcel has had to take such action. The outages were being described in the media Saturday as “rolling blackouts,” but Henley said the whole point was to avoid a blackout. The system shutoffs are designed to reduce the load and protect the entire system, he said.”When you have a blackout, the system’s gone and it’s going to take two weeks to restart the entire system,” he said.Henley said the 30-minute outages mostly were contained to the Denver area. They were instituted on a rotating basis so 100,000 customers at a time lost power, he said. Altogether, 300,000 customers were affected.Brent Gardner-Smith, executive director of KAJX public radio in Aspen, said power went off without warning at the station around 10 a.m. Saturday, interfering with its broadcast.The station had spent $5,000 last year on a short-term power supply, which keeps the station on the air 15 minutes and protects equipment. However, it now is raising funds for a power backup that would keep KAJX broadcasting for three days. Gardner-Smith believes that could provide an important service during a longer outage because people could get news from KAJX by using battery-powered radios, including the ones in their cars.Henley said Xcel gets half its energy from natural gas. Its system generally is prepared to deal with cold temperatures, but Xcel will look into what it can do to prevent shutdowns such as Saturday’s, he said.Benham said utilities increasingly are turning to natural gas to generate their electricity. Generally, gas is a better source when demand spikes because it can produce electricity quicker than coal can, he said.”Honestly I’m a little bit surprised, if this in fact was caused by a gas shortage,” he said.Then again, Benham had been in the Denver area earlier Saturday and saw firsthand how much demand there was for electricity. He said the temperature was minus 13. “It was very cold over there, and it’s pretty massive if you look at how big of an area was affected by those temperatures,” he said.Henley said all the controlled outages were completed Saturday morning.Front Range temperatures are expected to rise slowly over the next few days.


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