Xcel upgrades complete

Alisa Boswell

System overloads during winter cold snaps have prompted $1.6 million in upgrades across Portales, according to Xcel Media Relations Director Wes Reeves.

Reeves said the improvements by Xcel were completed the end of February after being put into effect in early 2011, just after numerous winter power outages in January and February.

Reeves said after experiencing a series of power outages during very cold weather in northwest Portales during the two months in 2011, the corporation realized it was time to upgrade to larger, more powerful power lines, which will be able to withstand larger power loads.

“In January of that year (2011), we had a series of power outages due to power lines and voltages not being robust enough to handle the amount of electricity going through them,” Reeves said. “The load was just too much for them. We did some immediate things at the time but we found as the population grows, we were going to need a better system to meet the power needs.”

Reeves said there were 20 feeder-level outages in Portales during January and February 2011 with only eight feeder-level outages the rest of the year and none for the first two months of 2012.

Feeder-level refers to a widespread outage that can affect hundreds of customers at one time.

“2011 brought us a very wide range of temperature extremes,” Reeves said. “We also had one of the hottest summers in many years, but the system held up relatively well beyond the cold winter months last year.

“We actually sent guys out at four and five in the morning to fix things to make sure people had power and heat,” Reeves said. “That’s why we are making these upgrades, so we can avoid sending people out in subzero weather.”

Reeves said with the Portales population growing and customers having increased power needs, power lines and their substations couldn’t keep up with demand.

“We need a system that meets the needs of not only customers today, but also of customers 20 to 30 years down the line,” Reeves said. “If we build the system correctly and build it out for the future, hopefully, it will hold costs down, because it can be very inefficient and expensive to use an out-of-date system.”

David Essex, manager of community service and economic development for Xcel, said the new upgrades will mean if one substation has an issue, the company will be able to fall back to other substations to provide power, which means power outages should be fewer and shorter.

“They went into these substations and changed these breakers out. Then, they reconductored our lines and what that does is allow them to switch that (power) load from station-to-station to level it out,” Essex said. “In general terms, we replaced and upgraded our breakers at the substation and upgraded our lines to a larger wire size so that we could shift load between the various substations more effectively.”