150,000 Xcel Energy customers lose power in Colorado, costing small businesses tens of thousands of dollars

Approximately 150,000 Xcel Energy customers across Colorado lost power over the weekend as high winds damaged power lines. As a safety measure to prevent wildfires, Xcel Energy preemptively shut off the power to around 55,000 customers, primarily in the Boulder area.

According to the Denver Post, local businesses in Xcel’s service territory lost tens of thousands of dollars due to the power outages. These outages resulted in lost revenue from being unable to open and food spoilage at restaurants. Some residential customers will have to replace refrigerators and freezers full of food. Given the cost of food these days, this expense is particularly burdensome, especially to those who can least afford it.

According to the Denver Post, the losses were exacerbated by Xcel’s poor communication with business owners about the power shutoff:

Widespread outages across the Front Range have impacted tens of thousands of customers, including businesses that lost thousands of dollars in spoiled food and nonexistent sales, each day the power remained off.

“Saturday morning, I got a text message from one of my employees saying he got a message from Xcel telling him the power would be cut off,” Chef Hosea Rosenberg said. “First, I wasn’t too concerned because I didn’t get any notifications.”

“I’m the registered contact with Xcel Energy. I often get notifications when there’s outages and I got zero warning from them — nothing,” Rosenberg said. “Information is the most critical piece here … we can’t do anything if we don’t have the information. And that’s the most frustrating part.”

Rosenberg estimates that between Blackbelly being closed and the food that didn’t make it into the truck, it will lose at least $40,000 — not to mention the wages staff members are having to go without.

“Losing all the sales, losing product, having staff out of work — it feels like COVID all over again,” he said. “The worst part is not knowing, I still have no clue when our lights are gonna go back on.”

Another example involved a small, family-owned and operated store. The Post continues:

The Niwot Market is just one example of numerous Boulder County businesses upended and hit in the pocketbook by the events of the weekend. Although the market had more warning of the outage, co-owner and store manager Alison Steele said she estimates it’s lost $35,000 of sales and product.

“We’re a little (market). We lose a day of sales and that’s detrimental to a business like ours,” she said.

The market was able to borrow a refrigerated truck from a vendor, and loaded up everything it could fit as soon as possible. But Steele said it couldn’t all fit. Thousands of dollars of ice cream, frozen deli meat and other products were lost.

An owner of a wine shop and pizzeria lost nearly $70,000 due to Xcel Energy’s lack of communication. The owner, Bobby Stuckey, vented that Xcel Energy makes billions of dollars but not protecting the public.

Back in Boulder, Bobby Stuckey, partner and master sommelier at Frasca Hospitality Group that Frasca Food and Wine and Pizzeria Alberico on Pearl Street lost nearly $70,000.

“It’s a great gift to wake up and not have Boulder be on fire,” Stuckey said. “But it was hard, certain businesses are affected differently than others.”

Stucky did not receive official notices from Xcel Energy; rather, he had to rely on employees who received word about their homes losing power. With no communication, restaurants aren’t able to preserve food through solutions like refrigerated trucks or generators. And even those are measures that Stuckey said businesses shouldn’t be having to consider.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re trying to think of something like that, when Xcel is a publicly traded, for-profit business,” Stuckey said. “They have the control of other businesses being able to do business, meaning we need some collaboration with them on this.”

“It’s unfettered capitalism. We have these billion-dollar companies giving billions of dollars to shareholders, while not protecting the public,” Daly said. “Where’s our government in protecting us from these companies? Why isn’t the state … and the city demanding more from them?”

Daly estimated that between his three Boulder restaurants affected by the outage he lost over $75,000. It would’ve been more, he said, without a warning he received, although it didn’t come from Xcel Energy. Daly said Downtown Boulder Inc. warned as many businesses as it could, once it heard of the planned outages and the Boulder Chamber worked closely with businesses all weekend.

“The chamber was amazing, and they were the only resource,” he said. “But we shouldn’t have to rely on them.”

The loss of food for residential customers is expected to strain the capacity of local food shelves.

“The disruption caused by the power outage has impacted the lives of countless households, and we are anticipating a significant increase in the number of people accessing our mobile and onsite pantries as well as the programs offered by our 42 Partner Agencies,” said Kim Da Silva CEO, of Community Food Share in a news release.

There is a real cost to not having access to electricity. These significant losses could possibly have been avoided if Xcel Energy had been less concerned about padding its rate base by building wind turbines and solar panels and had better maintained its existing transmission line system. The same is true for the devastating wildfires fires sparked by Xcel’s transmission lines in Texas that burned over 1 million acres.

We are already seeing Xcel Energy electricity customers in Colorado and Minnesota who are upset about the rising cost of their power bills. Given that Xcel Energy gets to recover the full cost of an asset plus a government-approved profit when it spends money, the company should prioritize reliably and affordably serving its customers, not building weather-dependent resources.