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How Core Electric's approach differed from Xcel Energy's during Colorado's dangerous windstorm last weekend

Xcel Energy de-energized more than 600 miles of power lines during last weekend's storm. CORE Electric didn’t preemptively turn off any part of its system
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Posted at 9:48 PM, Apr 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-15 13:18:00-04

SEDALIA, Colo. — Two of the main companies that supply power to thousands of Coloradans took two different approaches during last weekend's windstorm.

Last Saturday, 194,000 Xcel Energy customers lost power as forecasters warned of dangerous winds that could bring gusts of up to 100 mph to the foothills. About 55,000 of those outages were preemptive "public safety power shutoffs."

Xcel Energy officials said the company killed power to remove the risk of starting a wildfire in dry, windy conditions.

The much smaller utility, CORE Electric Cooperative, saw 12,000 customers lose power at the height of the storm — but those lights went out because of storm damage, not because of preemptive power shutoffs.

CORE Electric Cooperative’s headquarters sits off of Highway 85 in Douglas County. The co-op keeps the lights on across 5,000 square miles.

“We cover areas like Bennett, Strasburg, east of the airport, we cover Parker on the south side of town, all the way up to Bailey and Fairplay in those areas,” said Mark Jurgemeyer, interim chief operating officer with CORE Electric.

In an email to its customers, CORE Electric made it clear it didn’t preemptively turn off any part of its system last weekend.

“We made the decision to implement some alternate relay settings that we have pre-programmed at all of our substations,” said Jurgemeyer.

Jurgemeyer gave an example during a storm when the lights flicker, but then come right back on.

How Core Electric's approach differed from Xcel Energy's during Colorado's windstorm

Essentially, CORE Electric’s lines were operating in a sensitive setting during the storm in which power would be cut to a line if it sensed contact, say with a tree branch — something that could spark a fire.

“Unfortunately, it does cause those bigger outages for our customers. And we understand that it's not fun to live through, but it's what we need to do to try to minimize the risk,” said Jurgemeyer.

But those outages — unlike Xcel’s — were storm-related, not precautionary.

Xcel started by doing what CORE did, but on Saturday went a step further, cutting all power, to 55,000 customers which took days to restore.

“I believe we made absolutely the right decision. We have damage on our electric lines. That is due to wind,” said Hollie Velasquez Horvath, regional vice president of Xcel Energy, during a news conference on Sunday.

Jurgemeyer said a preemptive shut down is an option for CORE as well, but only as a last resort.

“We didn't for this storm, and we haven't in the past, but it is part of our program. And if we found that, you know, things weren't working properly with those alternate relay settings, then we would have had to take that next step,” said Jurgemeyer.

The Colorado Public Utility Commission formally opened an investigation into Xcel Energy Wednesday following Gov. Jared Polis’ direction to probe the company’s decision to implement a precautionary outage ahead of a windstorm this past weekend.

The commission said it will request detailed information from Xcel on the wind storm response and outages, including planning and communications, and seek input from impacted residents, local governments, businesses, and critical care providers.

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