How CORE Electric handled high winds differently than Xcel


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CORE Electric, which services one-tenth as many customers as Xcel, trusted fail safes during windy weather.

PARKER, Colo. — With 1.5 million electric customers, Xcel Energy is the powerhouse of power in Colorado.

CORE Electric Cooperative has one-tenth as many customers.

Despite also having power lines that felt the same high winds last weekend, CORE did not shut off power to customers on purpose, like Xcel did for 55,000 people.

CORE’s equipment has similar fail safes like Xcel has, that can shut off electricity to power lines if a tree falls into the lines or a power pole falls over. They are called reclosers, which are like circuit breakers, and CORE upped the sensitivity of its reclosers and relied on those instead of purposefully shutting off power to its customers.

RELATED: Here’s what Xcel could have done to keep folks safe instead of shutting off power to thousands

“We set ours, at the substation level, to just not reclose or automatically turn the power back on for everybody, which means longer, larger outages than we would like, but it saves that fire and other danger,” said Mark Jurgemeyer, CORE’s Interim Chief Operating Officer.

CORE has 177,000 electric customers in places like Castle Rock, Parker, Elizabeth, Conifer and Bailey.

The company did have power outages from last weekend’s windy weather, but not because the power was purposefully shut off. Something CORE bragged about in an email to customers on Thursday night.

“CORE’s alternate relay settings do not preemptively turn off any part of our system; they instead make the system is more sensitive to potential issues, such as a tree on a line,” the email stated.

“It is part of our fire mitigation plan to do a power shutoff if we absolutely have to. That is our last resort. We don’t want to do that. We understand the impact that has on people,” Jurgemeyer said.

The normal setting for a recloser is a “three-shot.” If it detects something wrong in the power line, from a tree into the line or a balloon or a power pole that falls, the recloser opens, shutting down electricity to the line.

A “three-shot” for CORE means that the recloser is trying to close again three times, quickly trying to reconnect the power, as long as the issue is no longer detected.

“In many storms, you may have seen your lights blink during the storm. And that’s the recloser opening and closing and doing that automatic restoring of power,” Jurgemeyer said.

However, in windy and fire danger weather, doing that could cause three quick sparks.

The alternate setting that CORE uses is for a “one-shot” after about 10 seconds.

“It will open the first time. It will wait 10 seconds, which will seem like forever for a customer, and then it will try to reclose if it can. So, if that branch fell off and went away, it will turn the power back on and it will be fine. If that branch is still there, it will stay off,” Jurgemeyer said.

Xcel has reclosers, as well, but purposefully shut off power to 55,000 people in six counties over the weekend. More than 168,000 Xcel customers lost power in the windstorm.

If a tree branch falls into a power line, that moment could cause a spark and fire, before the recloser shuts off the flow of electricity.

“Those settings we use, the alternate settings, are set very, very sensitive, so that it opens as quickly as is possible with the equipment we have,” Jurgemeyer said. “There is still, always, a chance that initial contact will cause a spark that may start a fire, but luckily things have worked out pretty well.”

The way power works, there are three phases – three power lines – and reclosers can shut off power to the lines individually. Perhaps your home is connected to the line shut off, but your neighbor across the street is getting electricity from one of the other two lines.

“When a recloser operates, it may only shut off one wire, which could be the north side of the street, and the people on the south side are on one of the other wires that didn’t have to shut off,” Jurgemeyer said.

Some CORE customers in the mountains and foothills lost power from the windy weather, but not because CORE purposefully shut off the power ahead of time.

Jenn from Conifer emailed Next with Kyle Clark about her CORE power being off for a day-and-a-half, but had a different reaction than most Xcel customers who have emailed.

“Even though we were without power for 36 hours in Conifer, I LOVE CORE electric. Their communication was awesome through the whole thing,” Jenn wrote.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has opened an investigation into the decision and communication by Xcel, not CORE.

SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Full Episodes of Next with Kyle Clark

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How CORE Electric handled high winds differently than Xcel

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