Xcel's Power Problems Persist
*10 years* of continual power outages in Boulder Pointe & our effort to motivate Xcel Energy
After yet another power outage in September of 2005 -- which caused a flooded basement — Steve Borsch reached out to Eden Prairie City Manager, Scott Neal, who forwarded his email to Xcel Energy. This intervention by the City Manager finally prompted Xcel to at least communicate (thank you Scott!). Not much happened until the Fall of 2006 when we had another September power outage...and I'd had enough.
A Story in Six Acts
So begins the journey toward resolution of a more than 10 year power outage problem that has been a constant irritant to the residents of Boulder Pointe, specifically in the area in red on the map below. Many of the homes in red have had power knocked out repeatedly over the last decade and more while their neighbors directly behind them (in blue) have never been without power during these outages!:
On October 2, 2006 a reply to that Scott Neal forwarded email arrives in my inbox (Steve Borsch) from Patrick Cline who works at Xcel Energy with an attached note from Roger Johnson of Xcel. Though their respective responsibilities are never articulated, it appears that these two guys are directly responsible for managing the grid in this section of town.
Cline apologizes to me for any inconvenience and points to this explanation from Johnson:
This customer has been affected by 2 problems recently: feeder level and tap level. The feeder problems have been predominantly caused by failure of heat shrink type splices in the underground cable coming out of the substation. We have replaced the splices that have failed, but there are probably more of that type of splice in service on this feeder. This fall, we will be locating, digging up and replacing the remaining heat shrink splices on this feeder.
I am not familiar with the tap level outages, however, since this tap is in the Shorewood service area. I see that troubleman Dale Keehl patrolled this tap during the 09/21/06 outage and found no problem. He put a new fuse link in, and it held. I suspect animal or tree contact, but Kim will no doubt dig into this deeper if/when it shows up on her REMS Exception report. (It hasn't shown up on her report yet, since there haven't been 2 outages on that fuse within a 12 month window).
It appears that they're on top of the problem and, please note, Johnson mentions work on "the feeder" which will be important as you'll see below. A reasonable person would think that they know there is a feeder problem and are now handling this matter and it will be fixed? Well then, you are not a reasonable person, are you?
Act 2: 2007 Outages Accelerate a Drive To Get Xcel Energy to Take Action
In the Spring of this year we have another major outage while (you guessed it) my neighbors behind me (in the blue section) enjoy power. It might be helpful to have a handful of the emails that went back-n-forth that have accelerated this whole issue to the point of ensuring this is taken care of once-and-for-all. There are only a relevant few but they're illustrative of the problem -- and that Xcel knows what's causing this more than 10 year problem which I'll sum up below.
From: Steve Borsch
Sent: Tuesday, May 08, 2007 5:37 PM
Cc: Cline, Patrick V; Johnson, Roger W; Marinac, Kim J; Marv & Waletha Cofer; John and Jane Hornseth
Subject: Re: FW: Power Outage Problem in Eden Prairie
I'm sending you this note with an entire email thread begun in October of last year. I'd originally reached out to you since the homes in my area of Boulder Pointe were consistently losing power even though much of our development had it. We're knocked out yet again and I'm connected to the Internet with my laptop and cell phone's high speed connection in order to send this note.
This problem is NOT resolved since -- just like numerous times previously -- our power is knocked out while my neighbors in the cul-de-sac behind me have it like always.
What is it going to take to resolve this once and for all? Patrick Cline from Xcel Energy had mentioned that, "I have worked with Roger and Kim on many projects and they will follow-up with you. Hang in there" but they never did and the ball obviously got dropped.This is completely unacceptable.
Roger Johnson replies:
On 5/9/07, Johnson, Roger W < firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
By now, you have probably listened to the voicemail message I left on your cell phone last night regarding this issue, but here is my response for the benefit of the others on this email.
The power interruption that occurred on 05/08/07 was a feeder level outage caused by a set of lightning arresters that blew up on a pole located on Pioneer Trail east of Flying Cloud Drive. Apparently, birds were building a nest on the pole on the bracket that holds the underground cable that feeds the Flying Cloud Airport area, inadvertently made contact with one or more of the lightning arresters which blew up causing the outage.
Although the cause of the outage was different than past problems, the effect to you was the same: no power. We are sorry, and continue to work to improve our system.For future reference, (and I hope there is no need), it would help me if you would include your address in your messages. Outage issues range in scope for entire substations that affect many customers to individual services that affect only one customer. This helps focus the scope of the outage investigation.
Roger W Johnson
Then....silence. Note the recognition -- again -- of a feeder level outage on the part of Xcel's Johnson.
Act 3: ANOTHER Outage!!
Then in August we have another outage while our blue neighbors are fully electrified. Enraged but trying to maintain a reasoned and dignified approach, I head over to a coffee shop with my laptop (to use their power and free Wifi) and I get specific on my request to be placed on the same part of the grid as our neighbors in blue.
From: Steve Borsch [mailto:email@example.com ]
Sent: Saturday, August 11, 2007 9:15 AM
To: Johnson, Roger W
Cc: Cline, Patrick V; Marinac, Kim J; Marv & Waletha Cofer; John and
Jane Hornseth; firstname.lastname@example.org; Swanson, Michelle M
Subject: Re: FW: Power Outage Problem in Eden Prairie
Horrific storm this morning. On my way to take my bride to the airport this morning it was easy to survey the considerable damage.
I'm writing again since -- like nearly all times past which prompted this email thread -- my section of our development is without power while my neighbors enjoy theirs across my backyard and all around us.
What would it take to shift us to the same part of the grid as the rest of the development? Since I've exhaustively documented these outages, I will be consulting Monday with a college buddy who is an attorney with extensive interactions with the Public Utilities Commission. It is time for my neighbors and I to embark upon a course of action to ensure this situation doesn't continue.
8907 Bradford Place
Eden Prairie, MN 55347
Two days later I get the following email and Johnson now gets specific (Note: he references the map above with the blue, red and green markings on it):
On 8/13/07, Johnson, Roger W <email@example.com> wrote:
To put the transformer that serves Bradford Place on the same feeder that serves Langdon Place would require installation of about 700 feet of underground 15kV cable and 4 cable splices at an estimated cost of $8,000.
The outage that started during the storm early on August 11 was caused by trees that had fallen onto the overhead wires in 2 places between your house and Pioneer Trail. (This would be in the green-circled area on the attached map). A few of your past outages were also caused by events occurring on this section of overhead line. The ultimate mitigation of future outages on this line is to prevent the trees and animals from making contact with the line. Although we are working toward this goal, I am proposing a change in our system that will feed the underground cable from the west and will prevent outages occurring on this overhead section of line from affecting the transformer that serves Bradford Place.
The area circled in red on the attached map has been fed from the overhead area in green. The area circled in blue is fed from underground cable that comes off the overhead feeder along Pioneer Trial. My proposal is to feed the red area from the blue area, rather than from the green area. The only work required for this would be a switching procedure in the field and changing the maps to reflect the new configuration.
Both the blue and green areas are currently fed from the same overhead feeder, (EDP073), along Pioneer Trail, so the feeder level outages would be the same regardless of configuration. There is a project in the 2008 budget that installs a new feeder from the Westgate Substation along Eden Prairie Road to Pioneer Trail where it will then carry the western half of the existing EDP073 feeder. The eastern half of EDP073 will remain EDP073 thereafter. The part of the feeder that is west of Flying Cloud Drive will be on the new Westgate feeder. (The transformer on Langdon Place is currently fed from a Westgate feeder).
Roger W Johnson
Oh my God! They're going to connect our red area with the blue area! Wouldn't any reasonable person take the statement, "My proposal is to feed the red area from the blue area, rather than from the green area" indicating that we'd now be on the same part of the grid as our neighbors in blue who've never had the level of outages we've had?
It appears that they are working on a permanent resolution and will take action to significantly mitigate our outage problem. My neighbors start to send me thumbs-up and accolade emails as there is a collective sigh of relief that this problem might, in fact, be behind us.
But my gut tells me not to trust this apparently trivial change and the implied pat on the head from Johnson that everything is now going to be OK.
Act 4: Joke's on us...it's not resolved...or is it?
I email Johnson back asking pointed and specific questions (since my level of confidence is pretty low) and I "CC" about 20 of my neighbors and Scott Neal in order to make this issue as public as possible (before engaging the local media, my contacts at the governor's office, ratcheting up the Public Utilities Commission and generally making a nuisance of myself). I ask:
...a couple of clarifications and expectation setting for all on this email is in order:1) When would this work commence and, most importantly, be completed?2) You mentioned an $8k cost for some reason. Who absorbs it or was this mentioned as a possible budgetary obstacle for you to overcome to deploy this fix immediately?3) Lastly, the new Westgate feeder project in the 2008 budget means this will be deployed (roughly) at what point in 2008?
Ooh...we're getting closer...I can just feel it. The next day (August 14th) Johnson sends this note:
On 8/14/07, Johnson, Roger W <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
1). We will reconfigure the feeds next week, assuming we don't get hit by more storms between now and then. It will take only a few hours to reconfigure things.
2). The reason I mentioned the $8k cost was because you had asked: "What would it take to shift us to the same part of the grid as the rest of the development?". It has nothing to do with the proposed reconfiguration.
3). The new feeder project is scheduled to be completed by 06/01/08.Xcel Energy would not contribute financially to your purchases of a generator for your home. We prefer spending our money improving our system for the benefit of everyone, not just a single customer.
Roger W Johnson
I email Johnson AGAIN to ask him to get back to me on when this resolution will occur. Many of my neighbors and I are eager for this matter to come to a close!! I get this exciting and pleasing note from Johnson the morning of Friday, August 24th:
On 8/24/07, Johnson, Roger W <email@example.com> wrote:
The normal open was relocated at 09:20AM on 08/24/2007 on RFO#249453. The area circled in red, on the previously attached map, is now fed from the blue area, rather than from the green area, (as it has been for several years).
Outages that result from tree, animal, and storm contact on the overhead line segment, (circle in green), will not affect the underground cables and pad mounted transformers in your neighborhood. Feeder level and underground cable events will affect you as they have previously.
Roger W Johnson
Dancing in the streets! Huzzah's from all the neighbors! It's fixed, it's fixed, it's fixed and then....
....wait for it....
....here comes the punchline.....
Our power goes out again LESS THAN THREE DAYS LATER at 3am-ish on Monday, August 27th while the entire blue area has full power, of course.
Act 5: It was a joke...it's NOT resolved
An "Oops" email comes from Johnson that day:
On 8/27/07, Johnson, Roger W <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Unfortunately, Murphy's Law has proven itself once again early this morning in your area. Lightning knocked out half of the Eden Prairie Substation at 2:48AM. Since the substation equipment didn't automatically reset itself and restore power, a Substation Operator was dispatched to the substation. Finding no physical damage, he restored power by manually operating the switches at 3:58AM. The automatic controls will be inspected for damage the lightning may have cause.
I am sorry these outages persist.Roger W Johnson
I ask in an email why we still got knocked out after the work they did three days earlier? He replied, "Our work last week did not connect you to the feeder or tap that feeds the neighbors behind you."
My response was this with my main emphasis on the fact that he damn well knew the outcome to be achieved:
From: "Steve Borsch" <email@example.com>
To: "Johnson, Roger W" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, 27 Aug 2007 10:15:18 -0500
Subject: Re: FW: Power Outage Problem in Eden Prairie; 8907 BRADFORD PL
"Our work last week did not connect you to the feeder or tap that feeds the neighbors behind you."
Unbelievable. It appears that all this discussion and supposed effort was all for naught. Since you replied only to me, I'm sending this note to my neighbors again as well as Scott Neal, the EP City Manager since my intention is to now accelerate this effort for a fix. Fortunately I have a significant body of documented communications with Xcel as well as outage data, the time, the connections, the wherewithall and the desire to pursue this as far and as long as it takes unless Xcel Energy performs whatever feeder-level work is required -- to ensure a successful *outcome* and permanent fix of our continued outage problem while others enjoy power -- this fall.
A few points:
1. You knew the *outcome* to be achieved by hooking us up to the blue area on the previously attached map. The *outcome* is what matters...NOT what little tactical hookups you've done or the scrambling around someone did to manually switch power back on when the auto-restart failed. The point is that -- like *all* the more than dozen times past -- exactly the same thing happened again. The people behind us had power and we didn't.
2. In case you're prepared to respond to this email with a reiteration of your planned feeder fix next August....don't. That explanation or fix is not nor will be acceptable. Only immediate, thorough and complete action toward a permanent outcome will be.
3. From a 40,000 foot level I understand electrical distribution and found the "Power 101" primer unnecessary and insulting.Look....you don't want to continue to hear from me but you will and today's outage only spurred me to greater action. A coordinated and orchestrated effort with the City of Eden Prairie; the Pubic Utilities Commission; my connections into the governor's office; and a pursuit of legal recourse all could be avoided if a permanent and outcome-based fix is deployed immediately.
Of course, there has been only....silence since (cue the crickets chirping).
Act 6: More work to do...
So what should be clear from the above is that Xcel knows what the problem is (the feeder) but has done nothing to resolve it. They know how to fix it. It's on the roadmap to be fixed in the summer of 2008...but if history is any guide we'll have at least two and possibly three major power outages between now and then (and who knows how many minor outages and brownouts like we've experienced for years) while we gaze longingly at our neighbors behind us all snug and warm in their full powered homes.
NO WAY am I going to stand for that level of service interruption and will do everything in my power to make certain I, and my neighbors, don't have to deal with the expense, the hassle and the frankly poor service this entails.
With the involvement of the City of Eden Prairie, the efforts of Scott Neal, involvement from the Mayor and head of Economic Development, a perspective from the City attorney, and the pressure from we citizens, maybe...just maybe....I'll be able to write the Epilogue to this story soon.