Xcel outlines steps to prevent winter outages
DENVER – Xcel Energy plans widespread changes, including exploring whether to add more natural gas storage facilities, to prevent more winter power outages like one last winter.Unprecedented rolling outages affected 325,000 customers Feb. 18 as the temperature hit 13 degrees below zero.Minneapolis-based Xcel blamed a series of problems, including mechanical failures and a lack of natural gas supply at power plants that led Xcel to lose nearly half its power supply over 20 hours. Incorrect forecasts and missteps in purchases of gas and backup electricity exacerbated problems, leading to the power outages.The utility filed a report with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission last week outlining findings from an internal investigation.Among the changes planned by Xcel are:- Installation of a new telephone system to better handle thousands of customer calls during emergencies.- Revisions in forecasting to consider not only temperature but also humidity, sunshine, cloud cover, wind and precipitation in predicting natural-gas demand.- A study of what it would take to add more gas-storage facilities. Xcel will require more gas reserves during extreme weather and that quicker decisions be made on purchasing backup electricity.- Development of a policy that requires power plants to check key mechanical systems when extreme temperatures are forecast to prevent shutdowns.- New procedures for cutting power to large wholesale customers who have agreed to power interruptions during emergencies, and retraining Xcel staff to ensure the tasks are carried out.- Purchasing a new communications tool that will allow key managers and executives to communicate online and through conference calling during emergencies.The PUC also is investigating the outages. PUC staff will complete their report by the end of the month, PUC spokesman Terry Bote said.
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