Boulder business was caught off-guard by weekend power outages. Xcel says they gave advanced notice

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Over 150,000 people lost power over the weekend in Colorado, due to extremely high winds that started Saturday and continued into Sunday morning. Around 55,000 of those people were Xcel Energy customers. The company decided to turn off services in six counties – including Boulder County – upon notice that winds would reach up to 100mph in some places across the state. As of late afternoon yesterday, power had been restored to about 80% of those impacted.

KGNU’s Jackie Sedley spoke with Hosea Rosenberg – owner of Blackbelly in Boulder – about his restaurant’s scramble to save their food supply over the weekend.

Rosenberg said he wasn’t notified about the potential outage until after they lost power.

“I was really upset that we didn’t get advance notice from them,” said Rosenberg. “That was my big beef because we could have better prepared. And I have a lot of connections and I have a lot of good ideas and I could have helped other restaurants kind of work as a team where we could have, you know, saved everybody’s product and done this smartly. You know, if you don’t have information, it’s hard to make good decisions.”

Rosenberg told KGNU that Blackbelly got their power back yesterday, midday, and were able to open for dinner. They lost tens of thousands of dollars in sales, and their employees lost several days of pay.

KGNU’s Jackie Sedley also spoke with the president of Xcel Energy Colorado, Robert Kenney.

He said that the decision to turn off the power was a tool of last resort to protect public safety, and that they did provide customers a heads up the night before – despite Rosenberg’s reported lack of notification.

“So the event was scheduled to begin 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. We did call those customers that we thought would be impacted on Friday night. We did outbound calls and we did other methods of communication to say, this is a possibility. Because of winds and low humidity, fire danger exists. Saturday morning, we made the decision that it was moving from possibility to, in fact, we were going to do it. And so we communicated with customers again. We always recognize that there are opportunities to improve, and we will look and seek to improve as we move forward to provide more advance notice. We’ve heard that feedback very loudly and clearly.”

Listen:

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    xcel Jackie Sedley

Transcript:

Jackie Sedley: This is the Morning Magazine. I’m Jackie Sedley. Over 150,000 people lost power over the weekend in Colorado due to extremely high winds that started Saturday and continued into Sunday morning. Around 55,000 of those people were Xcel Energy customers. The company decided to turn off services in six counties, including Boulder County, upon notice that winds would reach up to 100 miles per hour in some places across the state.

As of late afternoon yesterday, power had been restored to about 80% of those impacted.

Blackbelly is a well-established restaurant, butcher, and market in Boulder, and they had to scramble to preserve their food and business over the weekend. Hosea Rosenberg is the owner of Blackbelly, and I spoke with him yesterday at around 8:30 a.m. At that point in time, they hadn’t had power for about 40 hours. He recapped the weekend a bit for me.

Hosea Rosenberg: Sometime in the morning, Saturday, I got a text message from one of my managers asking me if the power was going to be turned off because he lives down the street and he got a notification. So I said, “I haven’t heard anything about this. You know, I’ll look into it.”

I reached out to Xcel. I wasn’t able to get a response. I checked on their map, and it wasn’t really anything, and I normally get text alerts from them if something’s happening. And so, I just figured it was nothing, um, that I would get alerted if there was something going on.

But then as the day went on, I started getting messages from other restaurants, friends, people that own businesses in town, asking me if I knew anything, and if my power was going to get cut off, so then I knew it was getting serious. So, my staff, we talked, we had kind of a contingency plan in place, but we could not get a straight answer whether or not our power would be on or off. We just couldn’t get anything from the power company, and so our plan was to stay open. And just keep our fingers crossed that nothing happened, you know.

Um, and then at basically at 3 o’clock sharp, the power to the building went off, and about 10-15 minutes later, I got a text message from Xcel on their alert system telling me that my power might be affected, which was, you know, a little late and very obvious.

Sedley: They ended up getting a refrigerated truck that Buckner Family Farms offered them.

Rosenberg: We were able to get the majority of our food into that vehicle. What we couldn’t get in there, we used dry ice to cool down. None of this is easy or cheap or fun, and we had to call back 120 different reservations to tell them that they couldn’t come in to dinner, um, and then I tried getting information from Xcel, but there was the map, I mean, I’m looking at their map right now, and it’s just really not very helpful. I, I have been able to get zero information from them on, how long it’ll take.

You know, I, I was really upset that we didn’t get advance notice from them. That was my big beef because we could have better prepared. And I have a lot of connections and I have a lot of good ideas and I could have helped other restaurants kind of work as a team where we could have, you know, saved everybody’s product and done this smartly. You know, if you don’t have information, it’s hard to make good decisions.

Sedley: As of yesterday morning, when I spoke to Rosenberg, they were still physically and psychologically in the dark about what was happening.

Rosenberg: There’s a number of things going on with restaurants. One is you got to keep everything under refrigeration and if it gets warm, you have to throw it away, like most perishable items. So there’s that problem. But then there’s also the idea that like we have prepped food that only lasts a few days. We, uh, we serve very fresh products. So we have things that are already cooked. We’re gonna have to throw away at this point anyway, ’cause they usually only have about a three day shelf life. So we’re gonna lose a fair amount of product regardless, even, even though it’s being kept cold.

The worst part for me though, is my staff. We have a lot of employees who have been impacted by this. They can’t make any money right now and they’ve been out of work for three days and that’s, some of these guys work paycheck-to-paycheck.

So this is, this is a big problem for them. And lastly, this is the third time my power’s gone out in my building. The last two were sort of like technical problems that they had with their, their power lines and I’ve already had to claim two business interruption insurance claims with my insurance company.

I’m very concerned that if I do a third that they might drop me. And so I’m really hoping that when I talk to Xcel that I can get, get something worked out with them where they can maybe help us with this financial burden that we have with our staff and our food. So, um.

All in we’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars in sales, and a lot of people are out of work right now, and we just don’t know when this is coming back.

Sedley: That was Hosea Rosenberg, the owner of Blackbelly in Boulder. They finally got their power back yesterday, midday, and were able to open for dinner.

After I spoke with Hosea, I talked to Robert Kenney. He’s the president of Xcel Energy Colorado. Here’s our conversation.

 

Jackie Sedley: Obviously, this weekend, tens of thousands of folks across Colorado lost power. Some are still trying to get that power back. Walk us through a bit of the decision making process that led to shutting off all of the power. I know some people felt like it, it came out of nowhere. Some people felt caught off guard. Others respected the decision and saw it as a safety measure. How would you kind of frame that decision making?

Robert Kenney: So Jackie, first of all, I want to acknowledge the challenge that our customers experience when we shut off the power. This is not a decision that we take lightly and proactively de energizing is a tool of last resort to protect public safety. I also just want to say thank you to our customers. for their patience and understanding.

The decision that we made was driven by science, and it was driven by the conditions that we observed and that were forecast from our meteorological departments and from the National Weather Service. And so what we saw this weekend were winds that were in excess of what the norm is. And so we know that we typically experience high winds in Colorado, and that’s not unusual, but the winds that we were forecasting this weekend were in excess of anything that we had seen before, and then you add to that dry conditions, low moisture in the fuels, and by fuels, I mean vegetation, grass, trees, et cetera, all of that conspires to create a very high fire danger risk.

And so we took this step as a method of protecting the public safety. That was primarily what drove our decision-making.

Sedley: Is there a response on the part of Xcel for people that kind of felt caught off guard as though they weren’t given enough notice that their power would be shut off?

Kenney: Well, as we know, weather is, is dynamic and can change. And this again, is a tool of last resort. We did provide our customers a heads up the night before. So the event was scheduled to begin 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. We did call those customers that we thought would be impacted on Friday night. We did outbound calls and we did other methods of communication to say, this is a possibility. Because of winds and low humidity, fire danger exists. Saturday morning, we made the decision that it was moving from possibility to, in fact, we were going to do it. And so we communicated with customers again. We always recognize that there are opportunities to improve, and we will look and seek to improve as we move forward to provide more advance notice.

We’ve heard that feedback very loudly and clearly.

Sedley: I know that a lot of businesses, especially restaurants, as well as neighbors whose refrigerators obviously didn’t have power, were struggling to keep their, their food preserved. Are there any forms of reimbursement people can apply for, or moving forward, are there any community services that are offered that people can seek out if this were to happen again and their, their food was at risk?

Kenney: Well, I will acknowledge that we want to make sure that we’re giving our customers as much advance notice as possible so they can take the proper precautions. And again, we did give notification on the Friday before. As we move forward, we want to make sure that we can provide as much advanced notice as possible.

Under our current policies and, and rules, we don’t provide reimbursement for weather related outages of this sort. Um, and so we want to make sure that we’re providing enough notice so that customers can take proper precautions.

Sedley: How are the locations that lose power chosen? Because I know that on Saturday, my house lost power for about 26 hours from Saturday to Sunday, but a friend’s house that I was at all day Saturday never lost power.

Kenney: So, we look at where we see the highest risk. We use National Weather Service and our own meteorological tools to determine where the winds are expected to be the highest. And then we also combine that with where we see the fuel moisture to be the least amount. And so, basically, putting those two metrics together, that’s how we determine where the highest likelihood of risk is.

To specifically your point about nearby neighbors having different experiences. The way that our system is designed, it could be the case that house A is served by feeder A, and house B is served by a completely different feeder. Even though they’re in close proximity to each other, they could be served by different feeders, and so that’s a function of the way that our system is designed.

I mean I’ll kinda maybe end where I started and I’ll add one additional thing. This is a tool to protect public safety. Full stop.

Once we make the decision to de-energize a line, we can’t just flip a switch and turn it back on. Somebody has to physically go out and look at that line to make sure that there’s no damage.

As you might imagine, if you turn the power off and the power line is damaged, if we were to remotely re-energize that line, You could start a fire. So we have to actually physically patrol. And in this case, it was 600 miles of line to make sure that it was safe to reenergize those, those lines. And so fully recognize the challenge that this posed and even the hardship for some of our customers and thank our customers for their grace, and their understanding as we deploy this tool to protect the public safety.

Sedley: Once again, that was Robert Kenney, the president of Xcel Energy Colorado, talking about the outages this weekend. Over 150,000 people lost power in Colorado due to winds that reached up to 100 miles per hour. As of late afternoon yesterday, power had been restored to about 80% of those impacted.

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Jackie Sedley

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