Investigation launched into Xcel Energy’s preemptive power shutoff, which left Colorado governor frustrated

Colorado’s energy regulators on Wednesday decided to open an investigation into Xcel Energy’s decision to preemptively shut off power over the weekend, which left thousands of people without electricity — some for two days — and compelled the governor to rebuke the energy company. In a news release, the Public Utilities Commission said it is exploring “immediate and long-term regulatory actions” to govern preemptive outages meant to reduce the risk of wildfire, which was the reason Xcel gave in shutting down the power of some 55,000 customers starting on Saturday. The commission said it will request “detailed information” from the energy company on the outages and its response, in particular how it planned for and communicated to customers.

The commission added it will seek input from affected residents, local governments, businesses and critical care providers. “As Governor Polis noted in his letter to Xcel Energy, shutting off power to customers is a serious and challenging decision,” commission chair Eric Blank said in a statement. “A decision this impactful requires a high level of concern and attention for customers. We want to make sure that the Commission sets those expectations and holds our utilities accountable.” When asked if Xcel has the authority to institute protective shutdowns, O’Donnell said, “Our rules do not require utilities to receive advance permission from the PUC for actions like public safety shutoffs.

The April deployment was, to our knowledge, the first in Colorado history.” Colorado law requires utilities to provide services in a way that promotes the “safety, health, comfort, and convenience of its patrons, employees, and the public, and as shall in all respects be adequate, efficient, just, and reasonable.” The commission said it also launched an online survey to seek feedback from Coloradans, adding it will host a virtual hearing on April 17 and convene a workshop with Xcel and other groups later this month. Polis on Tuesday rebuked Xcel’s decision to preemptively shut off power, saying it should have been done “as a last resort.” That decision, Polis said, “further harmed Xcel’s reputation and social license.” The windstorm that hammered the Front Range over the weekend left a trail of residents upset at Xcel, who said they did not receive any notice until just a few hours before their power was cut off, forcing them to scramble.

“I heard from many frustrated Coloradans who lost power for multiple days without clear indication from Xcel when it would be restored — from businesses that could not operate and lost perishable inventories and income, from hospitals that struggled to respond to vulnerable community members, and from schools that had to close all day Monday,” Polis said in his letter to Robert Kenney, president of Xcel Energy-Colorado. “This particular storm should not have resulted in as many people losing power for such a long period of time,” the governor said. In a statement on Tuesday, Kenney said Xcel appreciates customers’ “patience as our crews worked throughout the extreme wind event to restore power.” “We recognize that being without this essential service brings challenges. We are all learning to live with the reality of new, extreme weather events that can affect the grid.

We’re grateful that our customers and our crews were able to remain safe,” he said. In an email statement to The Denver Gazette on Wednesday, Xcel Energy spokesperson Michelle Aguayo said the windstorm caused extensive damage to homes, businesses and the grid. She said the company has replaced or repaired critical infrastructure, specifically along the Front Range, including in places where the company proactively “de-energized” lines. Most of the repairs occurred in the southern part of the metro area. She said that, as of 2 p.m., Xcel has replaced or repaired 107 poles, 327 crossarms, 34 transformers and 12.6 miles of wire or cables. The numbers are not final, she said.

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