Rolling blackout hits area

Bitter cold forces Xcel to reset power grid

— A shortage of natural gas forced Xcel Energy to impose controlled outages early Saturday in Steamboat Springs and other communities across the state.

A natural gas supplier to Xcel had equipment problems, causing a significant loss of electricity generation at the company's natural-gas power plants, company spokesman Tom Henley said. That was a problem in metro Denver, where below-zero temperatures broke at least one record.

Parts of Steamboat and Craig lost electricity for about 15 minutes at about 10 a.m. Saturday. The rolling blackouts ended by 10:20 a.m., said Jim Chappell of Yampa Valley Electric Association.

The blackouts stabilized the lack of electricity in the grids, Chappell said, to prevent low voltage by opening up the circuits. Chappell said he had never heard of Xcel conducting such a blackout in the Yampa Valley.

"When I first heard what had happened from dispatch, I thought they were joking," Chappell said.

Steamboat Springs police said the calls they received from residents without power came mostly from the area of US. Highway 40 and Routt County Road 129. Officers said the traffic lights were down for a few minutes but were back up before officers needed to direct traffic.

The outages lasted longer in other areas. Beginning at about 8:45 a.m., as many as 100,000 customers in the Denver area, Grand Junction, Vail, Aspen and Basalt lost power for about 30 minutes at a time. The outages occurred during a two-hour period.

Xcel said frozen liquid at its supplier's well head slowed the flow of natural gas. The problem was enhanced by increased demand because of the freezing temperatures.

By 1 p.m., Henley said, supply problems were ending.

''Those gas supplies are starting to flow again to Xcel Energy's generation system,'' Henley said. ''Those generating units on natural gas are starting to come back online.''

Henley could not guarantee the outages were over.

''We don't expect any more, but that situation could change at any time,'' he said. ''We feel like we set ourselves up to the point where we shouldn't have any more issues.''

Between 3,500 and 5,000 customers remained without power Saturday afternoon in mostly isolated incidents, some of which were caused by the frigid temperatures.

Denver's power problems came on one of the coldest days of the winter across the Eastern Plains. Denver International Airport's temperature of 13 below zero at 7:13 a.m. broke the record low of 3 below set in 1880, National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Kalina said.

Monument recorded a temperature of 22 below, he said.

Temperatures were expected to slowly increase during the week.

''We just had a really strong Arctic cold front come down,'' Kalina said. ''We have been kind of spoiled with warm weather, so that kind of makes it feel even colder.''

At the Denver airport, United Express was forced to cancel 23 flights because of the cold. United also had two cancellations, and both had other flights that were delayed -- four by about three hours, spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

She blamed the problems on the low temperatures, which were causing support equipment, such as that which fuels planes, to freeze.

''When it freezes, it's not able to service the plane,'' she said.

A few flights into Yampa Valley Regional Airport were delayed or canceled.

Alexis DeLaCruz of the Steamboat Pilot & Today and Melissa Trujillo of The Associated Press compiled this report.

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