Gov. Jared Polis orders Colorado Public Utilities Commission to explore reforms following Xcel power shutoffs

Xcel Comanche Power Station Pueblo
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Xcel’s Comanche power generating station outside Pueblo.

Following outages that left over 155,000 Xcel Energy customers on the Front Range without power during a windstorm, Governor Jared Polis has directed the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to explore reforms. 

Xcel worked to restore service to the last several thousand buildings without power Tuesday night, with some experiencing blackouts since Saturday afternoon. Polis sent a letter to Xcel Tuesday, thanking workers on the ground while also expressing frustration with the power utility’s leaders.

“Customers deserve transparency, real-time information, and accountability if these events occur,” Polis wrote. “While I applaud your staff and front line crews for restoring power in a challenging situation where major infrastructure damage did in fact occur, this incident has further harmed Xcel’s reputation and social license.”

Over the weekend, and as blackouts rolled into Monday and Tuesday, customers impacted by the shutoffs complained about Xcel’s communication. Many say they were in the planned shutoff areas but never received prior notification that they were going to lose power, leading to personal and professional impacts. 

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission regulates the state’s utility providers. Polis asked the agency to look into ways to protect customers in the event of future proactive public safety power shutoffs. Polis’ wants the PUC to:

  • Ensure public safety power shutoffs decisions are made in the best interest of Coloradans including adequate communication allowing individuals and businesses to prepare, especially the most vulnerable Coloradans. 
  • Guarantee Coloradans receive timely, simple and relevant information about outage locations, support services and expected restoration timelines. 
  • Provide Coloradans with updated and more actionable maps that provide transparency on anticipated or current outages and service restoration activities.
  • Investigate how Xcel has fallen short in informing and protecting customers, businesses, and communities during the public safety power shutoff, and what additional strategies can improve operations in the future. 

The PUC is welcoming feedback about the windstorm and Xcel’s response to it. The agency said responses may influence “whether new regulatory approaches are necessary for precautionary outages.”

The weekend shutoff was the first time a state utility has preemptively cut power to prevent downed lines from sparking wildfires. While the company has defended its actions, its president told CPR News the company fell short of its standards when communicating with affected customers