Fargo power outages concern PSC; regulatory agency sets Aug. 8 hearing on Xcel electric failures
FARGO – North Dakota utility regulators will review recent power failures involving Xcel Energy customers here in an appraisal of the firm’s reliability performance.
The Public Service Commission will conduct a hearing Aug. 8 into the causes of the outages, which include three within three days in late June affecting customers in north Fargo.
Preliminary findings show that two of the power failures occurred the weekend of June 21-22, including one involving about 6,000 customers for 2½hours.
Those failures apparently were caused by “connector” problems, Xcel said.
One of the outages delayed a RedHawks baseball game, and two other recent games have been impacted but not delayed by outages.
A third power outage on June 23 appears to have been caused by a contractor who failed to “call before you dig,” officials said.
Other recent power outages in north Fargo include one that struck during hot and humid conditions Sunday evening. It affected 338 customers and was caused by a bad fuse, according to Xcel Energy.
High wind gusts during Monday night’s thunderstorm caused power to fail in two northside areas.
“It’s absolutely my belief that it’s not the start of a trend,” said Mark Nisbet, Xcel’s principal North Dakota manager.
Under prodding by regulators in recent years, Xcel has invested $30 million to improve electricity service reliability, installing 25 “smart switches,” replacing old underground power lines, trimming trees, and hiring an electrical engineer based in Fargo.
“We’ve continued to focus on reliability,” Nisbet said. Still, noting that infrastructure is exposed to harsh weather conditions, “It doesn’t mean that you can’t have an outage.”
Brian Kalk of the Public Service Commission, who called the late June rash of power failures “unacceptable,” said conducting a formal hearing instead of an informal meeting to examine the outages underscores their seriousness.
“A lot of people were affected,” Kalk said.
In conversations with Xcel, Kalk said, company officials have said the 19th Avenue North construction project has complicated delivering power to north Fargo. Utilities must have the ability to reroute power when a failure occurs, and that ability purportedly has been hampered by the construction, he said.
At least anecdotally, north Fargo seems to be more prone to power failures than south Fargo, presumably because the north side has more mature trees with limbs that can blow down in a storm, knocking down power lines, Kalk said.
Although questions about Xcel Energy’s electricity reliability in Fargo have been a concern in recent years, the company’s reliability performance in North Dakota is better than many other states in its territory and better than the industry standard, Kalk said.
“Reliability is increasing in North Dakota,” he added.
At the hearing, commissioners will ask for an update from Xcel on whether any customers are entitled to a $50 billing credit that applies when they experience three or more sustained outages – five minutes or more – in a year.
Xcel is entitled to incentives ranging from $250,000 to $1 million if it keeps average annual outage time per customer to 57 minutes or less under an agreement with regulators.
Last year, Xcel averaged failures lasting 73.2 minutes per customer. Still, Xcel’s power outage time in North Dakota was lower than the other states in its system in each of the past six years, and its power restoration time was shorter in nine of the past 10 years, according to filings with the PSC.
The Aug. 8 hearing is set for 10 a.m. PSC hearings, which are held in the commission’s hearing room at the State Capitol in Bismarck, are also broadcast online at www.psc.nd.gov.