BoCo, briefly: April, 10, 2023

Local news at a glance


Extreme wind, Xcel shutoffs leave thousands without electricity 

Xcel Energy proactively shut off power for the first time in Colorado history because of high wildfire risk over the weekend, leaving thousands without power for multiple days. 

The utility “de-energized” more than 600 miles of power lines Saturday afternoon, impacting about 55,000 customers in Boulder, Gilpin, Larimer, Douglas, Broomfield and Jefferson counties. Xcel estimated 100,000 more were without electricity at the height of the storm because of high winds damaging infrastructure. 

As of 8 a.m. Monday morning, 49,000 customers were still without power. The outage continued to impact nearly 850 customers as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Xcel’s website. 

Many customers were blindsided by the shutoffs. Local business owners voiced frustrations at a Boulder Chamber of Commerce forum with Xcel on Monday morning, citing poor, late or nonexistent communication about the planned outages. 

Hosea Rosenberg’s restaurant, Blackbelly, was without power until midday on Monday. He first heard about the outage from an employee, and didn’t receive any communication from the utility about when electricity would turn back on.  

“We have $50-$60,000 worth of food in our building that is under refrigeration. And if you know food code, you have about four hours to save your products or you have to throw it all away,” he said. “That big of a loss to us would essentially put us out of business forever.” 

Rosenberg was able to salvage some product, but without power he was “just watching our food die.”

Other business owners voiced similar problems, especially with Xcel’s notification process. George Karakehian, owner of Art Source International, said the lack of communication was “awful.”

“I’ve been downtown in business for 45 years,” he said, “but the handling of this event is the worst handling of any disaster or near disaster in history down here.” 

Robert Kenney, president of Xcel Energy Colorado, said there’s an “opportunity to improve” the timeliness of customer notification up to the industry standard of 72 to 96 hours in advance. But he stood by his company’s decision. 

“This is a public safety decision that we do not take lightly,” he said during the forum. “I am heartened to note that we did not have any ignitions and we did not see any wildfires. I ultimately believe that, despite the challenges that were created, that it was ultimately the best decision to avoid a catastrophic wildfire from happening.” 

Xcel Energy is facing nearly 300 lawsuits stemming from the Marshall Fire, but Kenney said that this event was “very different” from the most destructive fire in Colorado history.

“We continue to maintain that our equipment didn’t start the Marshall Fire. And so we made this decision not as a litigation risk mitigation; this was a public safety mitigation to avoid a fire.”

The combination of dry vegetation and high winds (gusts up to 90 miles per hour) justified the shutoff last weekend because a potentially downed power line could ignite a rapidly spreading fire, Kenney said. Xcel has de-energized in other states as a “tool of last resort.”

De-energizing will continue to be a strategy the company uses in Colorado when extreme winds are coupled with low fuel moisture, Kenney said, but won’t necessarily be used every time there are high winds.

Instead of automatically restoring electricity to impacted power lines, which is Xcel’s standard practice, the company inspected each area before re-energizing for safety reasons, meaning power outages lasted longer, according to a press release. 

Boulder City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde said police attended more than 200 calls during the first 12 hours of the outage. Despite Xcel saying it would exclude “critical care facilities” from the shutdown, Frasier Meadows, a senior living community with 500 people, lost power. So did Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital. 

County creates new housing department

The Boulder County Commissioners announced on April 4 that the housing and human services department (HHS) will split into two. A new housing department will focus on housing and homelessness, and include Boulder County Housing Authority (BCHA), and the other solely on human services such as food and financial assistance.

The change won’t result in staff changes. A new housing director will be hired internally to lead the housing department and BCHA, the county said. 

The new consolidated housing department will create a more focused approach to address housing challenges in an area with over 28,000 cost-burdened households (who spend more than 30% of their income on housing), including 16,000 households spending more than half their income on rent, according to a county press release. Boulder County currently has about 7,400 affordable rentals and homes, but it estimates it needs to more than double that number to meet today’s needs. 

Housing needs include managing the growing number of people experiencing homelessness. The most recent point-in-time count recorded over 800 homeless people in Boulder County. 

Assessment: Region needs 216K new homes by 2033

Over 500,000 new units are required to meet 2050 regional housing needs, according to preliminary findings from a regional assessment. 

The assessment, led by the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) that includes Boulder County and some cities within it, aims to outline both the scale and barriers to address the region’s housing needs. 

According to a presentation at an April 3 DRCOG Board work session, short-term needs include adding 216,000 new units by 2033. More than half need to be affordable to households earning under 60% of the area median income (AMI), roughly $75,240 for a family of four in Boulder. 

The assessment started last September and it is still in the development phase, but its complete findings will be published in June. 

In other news… 

The City of Lafayette is launching another e-bike rebate program following the success of last year’s program. The standard rebate is $300, and the income-qualified rebate is $600. The application is open for Lafayette residents through May 5. Learn more and apply:

A dead calf found in Grand County on April 2 is the result of the first wolf-related livestock death since the animal’s reintroduction in December 2023. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the livestock producer is eligible for fair market value compensation from the state. 


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