A Disruptive Power Outage and How to Be a Good Neighbor

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Utility services are expected to be reliable. Electricity, natural gas, the internet, even land-line telephone service; we expect it is always there. Flip the switch, the light comes on. When the temperature dips, the furnace warms our home. Open our laptops, and wi-fi connects us to the world. We just take it for granted, and why not?

When it’s not there, when the power goes out, our lives are interrupted in a big way. Even knowing it’s temporary and that things will get back to normal the moment the lights come back on, isn’t a comfort. When a power outage hits, it disrupts not just our lives, but those of our neighbors.

In the aftermath of the windstorm that howled through Wheat Ridge on Saturday, April 6, the giant power corporation that serves our community was once again in the crosshairs. Certainly, we lost electricity here in our little corner of the city, but overall, the areas affected in Wheat Ridge were patchwork and not citywide. By Sunday afternoon, power was restored to all but a few blocks. 

It is fortunate our community was not one selected for the utility’s proactive “Public Safety Power Shutoff” policy. Neighborhoods around Boulder and nearby the Marshall Fire area were selected for PSPS and that decision had plenty of people, including Gov. Jared Polis, hopping mad. That and a level of customer communication deemed amateurish and wholly inadequate raised hackles up and down the Front Range.

No, the cause of our disrupted lives in Wheat Ridge was more mundane and much closer to home. In my instance, the howling winds took down a backyard pine tree on the next block. Unfortunately, that pine tree fell into a power line and took several square blocks of the electric grid with it.

Utility crews isolated the downed line and restored power to most of the surrounding neighborhood. Unfortunately for us, our condo community and the two blocks of single-family homes to our south were without electricity from about 10:30 Saturday night until 1:15 Monday afternoon.

Our lives did get back to normal as soon as power was restored. Since natural gas service was not interrupted, we relied on our gas fireplace and our gas hot-water heater to keep us warm for two chilly nights.

By the middle of the week, Gov. Polis issued a statement scolding XCEL Energy for: “Once again, (failing) to minimize outages and effectively communicate with customers.”

The effectively communicating part is legitimate. Providing useful information during a crisis is challenging and never meets expectations. However, the utility company rallied its troops and restored power to most areas in less than 24 hours. That’s commendable in my book.

Nevertheless, in my instance, the only way a power outage could have been minimized is if our neighbor had called a tree service to cut back their backyard pine tree away from the power wires before the hurricane-force winds arrived. Sometimes that’s all it takes to be a good neighbor.

Dan Larson is a member of the Wheat Ridge City Council, representing Dist. IV. He is a former journalist and communications professional and currently serves as president of his community Homeowners Association.

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