Cold and dark in Grand Forks
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The exact cause of an overnight power outage that affected 6,700 Grand Forks customers is yet to be determined, officials say. According to Xcel Energy spokeswoman Bonnie Lund, extreme cold weather may have been a factor in th...
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The exact cause of an overnight power outage that affected 6,700 Grand Forks customers is yet to be determined, officials say.
According to Xcel Energy spokeswoman Bonnie Lund, extreme cold weather may have been a factor in the outage, which resulted from problems at one of Grand Forks' two substations.
"There is no question that cold weather does cause some stresses on our system because customers use more energy," she said.
The outage was first reported at about 2:48 a.m. Wednesday, and power was restored by 9:30 a.m. However, three large Grand Forks businesses were affected later in the day. Xcel did not release the names of the businesses.
The Alerus Center was opened for people who needed warmth after their homes cooled to 50 degrees or colder without power. "It was open, it was available, but nobody felt they had to go there," said John Bernstrom, a city spokesman.
UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the outage affected only the north side of campus, including the arena, wellness center and medical school.
Brad Sylliaasen, distribution design manager at Xcel, said the company is currently focused on making a mobile transformer operational before it investigates the outage. The transformer was transported from the company's Maple Grove, Minn., warehouse.
"We have crews working on that right now. The mobile transformer is at the substation. We will continue to work through the evening to do what it takes to get that operational," he said Wednesday afternoon.
Lund said a repair crew hoped to have the equipment functional late Wednesday evening. She didn't expect additional outages related to the repairs. "The repairs that we're doing should really be invisible to the customers," she said.
Lund added that the most recent outage resulted from a problem with the same transformer that was responsible for a power outage the evening of Feb. 3. The outage affected about 1,600 people in the downtown and northern portions of Grand Forks.
"We don't know if it's the same component that failed, but it's on that same transformer," Lund said.
Xcel customers were asked to reduce their electricity consumption Wednesday night and early this morning to ease stress on the distribution system. "We will let them know when the system is more stable," Lund said.
City officials also requested that residents conserve water as a precautionary measure. Bernstrom said the water supply was fine, but a loss of power at a lift station could create problems with wastewater.
Lund didn't anticipate any more outages due to ongoing repairs. "The repairs that we're doing should really be invisible to the customers," she said.
While the power outage is one of at least three in the downtown area this month, Lund said Xcel's distribution system has held up reliably despite higher electricity consumption in recent weeks because of extreme cold temperatures. "I don't have any reason to believe the outages in that downtown area are excessively high," she said.
Sylliaasen added that the company tests the load its equipment can handle for "worst case" scenarios, including instances of extremely hot or cold temperatures. He said substations in Grand Forks are regularly monitored and upgraded as needed.
The age of the equipment in the substation currently under repair varies. Lund said many of the components have a 30- to 50-year life span. "We try to maximize that the best we possibly can," Sylliaasen added.
Lund said Xcel investigates outages as they happen. The company also keeps a close eye on areas that experience an usual amount of outages, she added.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission also keeps tabs on Xcel's service to customers in this state.
Between the years of 2001 and 2005, Xcel Energy utilized performance-based ratemaking in North Dakota. With this process, rates are adjusted annually based on a company's performance for the year and its earnings, according to Public Service Commissioner Susan Wefald.
During that period, Xcel regularly provided the PSC with its reliability statistics.
Wefald said Xcel's reliability was measured against two standards - one for the average minutes a North Dakota customer was without power in a given year and another for the annual frequency of power outages for customers in the state. The commission examined outages that exceeded five minutes in length.
With the exception of 2002, when the average Xcel customer experienced 1.09 outages, the company's North Dakota customers experienced less than one power outage annually between 2001 and 2005. The standard set by the PSC was 0.9 outages. Apart from 2002, Xcel Energy was at or below the standard.
In 2006, the average frequency of power outages for a North Dakota customer was 0.62 outages for the year.
The time an average North Dakota customer spent without power in a given year varied between 2001 and 2005. The PSC set 89 minutes as the standard for that time period. Xcel's numbers varied. The company's average North Dakota customer was without power for 54.7 minutes in 2003. In 2005, that number reached a high of 101.5 minutes for the year.
The PSC allows companies to fall within 15 percent above or below the standard.
After 2005, Wefald said the company switched from performance-based ratemaking to a different form of determining rates. The company must now go in for a regular rate case if it wants to increase rates.
Since 2002, the PSC reported one complaint from Grand Forks regarding Xcel Energy. "We're not getting a lot of calls on reliability regarding Xcel," Wefald said.
This story contains material from the Associated Press. Edison reports on business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or email@example.com .