Commentary: Storms bring need for reliable energy to lightUntil the lights go out and furnaces shut down, many people take electricity and natural gas for granted. So we all paid attention when nearly 10 million utility customers lost power in the wake of superstorm Sandy and the recent nor’easter.
By: Ben Fowke, The Republican Eagle
Until the lights go out and furnaces shut down, many people take electricity and natural gas for granted. So we all paid attention when nearly 10 million utility customers lost power in the wake of superstorm Sandy and the recent nor’easter.
Xcel Energy sent 230 employees and contractors from our four operating companies — including 46 employees and 30 contractors from Minnesota and Wisconsin — to help restore electricity in Sandy’s aftermath. The Minnesota crews from Red Wing, La Crescent, Faribault, Montrose, Paynesville and the Twin Cities departed Oct. 31 to work in West Virginia. By Election Day, the crews had moved on to Long Island, New York, where they slept in tents, trailers and gymnasiums and worked 16-hour days through Monday.
As our electricity crews were heading home, natural gas crews from our multi-state service territory were packing their bags for a deployment in West Hempstead, N.Y., where they will work on meters and relight residents’ appliances. That deployment, which started Monday Nov. 12, includes 15 Twin Cities-based employees.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about storm restoration and the responsibilities of the people who work in our industry. Above all else, it’s our responsibility to provide safe, reliable energy every minute of every day at a competitive price.
In Minnesota, we don’t have hurricanes, but we know a thing or two about snow, cold, ice and tornadoes. Because of that, we have a highly coordinated storm restoration process that plans for potential storms and leverages strong alliances with our neighboring utilities.
We also have a workforce that answers the bell 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Utilities maintain mutual aid agreements and routinely assist each other when storms cause massive destruction. We’re almost always one of the first utilities requested to provide aid to other utilities, which says a lot about our capabilities. (The utility requesting aid reimburses the utility whose crews are sent to help, and we send crews only after ensuring we have adequate resources to respond to outages in our own service territories.)
Obviously, we can’t control the weather or guarantee you won’t lose power in a storm. But we can — and do — make investments to ensure our energy system is as strong as it can be.
We are upgrading and replacing infrastructure, some of it built 60-plus years ago when we made huge investments to accommodate post World War II growth. It costs a lot to refurbish or replace old poles, wires and power plants: we have been investing more than $1 billion a year in our Upper Midwest system.
The result? Service reliability that allows our customers to focus on their lives and businesses without worrying about whether they’ll have the energy available to accomplish what needs to get done, and the assurance that, when the power goes out, our skilled and dedicated crews and support personnel will restore service quickly and safely.
Ben Fowke is chairman, president and CEO of Xcel Energy.