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Xcel: Our system works

Xcel Energy officials say they are confident in the reliability of their distribution system, and would be willing to fully cooperate with North Dakota's Public Service Commission if it chooses to investigate the company.

Xcel Energy officials say they are confident in the reliability of their distribution system, and would be willing to fully cooperate with North Dakota's Public Service Commission if it chooses to investigate the company.

At the request of one Grand Forks resident, Public Service Commissioner Susan Wefald said Thursday she plans to recommend an investigation into Xcel at the PSC's Feb. 23 business meeting. The investigation would examine the reliability of the company's distribution system, including recent outages in Grand Forks.

Defending reliability

Mark Nisbet, Xcel's North Dakota principle manager, defended the company's reliability. During the past five years, the company reported nine power outages that resulted from an equipment failure within substations in Grand Forks, Fargo and Minot.

Five of those events, two of which were induced by the company to facilitate other repairs, occurred in Grand Forks. The outages that occurred Feb. 3 and Feb. 14 are included in that number.

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Xcel officials pointed to those numbers to defend the company's reliability. "It's our responsibility to provide as reliable service as possible," Nisbet said.

Brad Sylliaasen, distribution design manager at Xcel, said there are no solid federal guidelines that are used to determine reliability, and reporting reliability statistics probably isn't consistent on a state-by-state basis. Using more general measures, Nisbet felt Xcel Energy was very competitive with other companies in terms of its service.

"Anecdotally, we believe we are in the upper tier as far as what we're doing," he said.

Less than one

outage a year

From 2003 to 2006, the average Xcel Energy customer in North Dakota experienced less than one power outage a year, according to statistics provided by the company. In 2006, an average Xcel customer in this state spent 77 minutes without power for the year.

Wednesday's outage was the third largest substation-related outage in Grand Forks since 2002. On April 2, 2003, Xcel intentionally caused two outages at the company's Nordic substation, which is located near Columbia Road, to aid with other repairs to the distribution system.

Both of the outages affected about 9,400 customers.

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The largest outage because of a substation failure since 2002 occurred in Fargo. On April 20, 2003, a broken insulator left about 10,300 customers without power for an hour.

Sylliaasen said it will be about a week before officials know the exact cause of Wednesday's outage, which affected about 6,700 customers in Grand Forks. The outage occurred after the two transformers failed at Xcel's substation near Gateway Drive.

When the first transformer failed at 12:17 a.m., Xcel's distribution system automatically transferred the load to the substation's other transformer, which also failed at 2:40 a.m. The company began transferring feeders served by the Gateway substation to the Nordic substation.

Sylliaasen said substations take a high-voltage load from transmission lines and transform it down to a lower voltage that is used for distribution via feeders. He added that Xcel Energy has two substations and 18 feeders in Grand Forks.

The transformers that failed were installed in the mid-1970s. Sylliaasen said the life span of equipment in a substation varies, but most of the components last for about 30 to 50 years. He said it was too early to determine whether the age of the transformers was a factor in the outage.

Sylliaasen said Xcel regularly monitors its distribution system and proactively seeks out new technologies. He added, however, that the technology associated with a substation has not changed much over the years.

"The basic concept of our distribution transformer, substation transformer, is what it is," he said.

On Thursday, repair crews stabilized Grand Forks' power supply with a mobile transformer that was brought in from the company's Maple Grove, Minn., warehouse. Xcel is currently working on permanent repairs.

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The substation under repair was also responsible for a Feb. 3 outage that affected 1,600 Xcel customers in Grand Forks.

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