Uptown residents, businesses, experience wave of power outages

Swallow Hill residents had as many as 14 outages this summer

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Residents and businesses in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood struggled through a summer of unpredictable power outages that they said totaled as many as 14 in one neighborhood and 13 for one restaurant.

Although residents said Xcel Energy was initially unresponsive, the power company — after a community meeting last month — promised to keep close tabs on the issue.

“We are now hypersensitive to this neighborhood and what you’re going through,” Tyler Smith, Xcel’s area manager, told those at the Aug. 15 meeting at Stoney’s Uptown Joint, a neighborhood sports bar.

The problem is recurring, residents said, noting that the neighborhood saw similar power outages during the past two summers. But this year has been the worst, said Chris Chiari, vice president of the Registered Neighborhood Organization (RNO) at Swallow Hill.

Staff at Xcel Energy said it recorded the first outage on June 10, with an additional eight happening through August. To have this many outages happening in a concentrated area is unusual, said Mark Stutz, a spokesperson with Xcel.

“After we got to that second, third one,” he said, “we knew we had some issues here.”

But residents in the Swallow Hill Historic District, a neighborhood bordered by Colfax and East 17th avenues and Clarkson and Downing streets, said the problem was bigger than eight outages in a few months.

Residents there estimated as many as 14 outages. Many also said the power company was, at first, unresponsive.

Chiari said his home experienced 12 outages. On average, the neighborhood would lose power once every 10 days, he said.

Chiari, who spent time on a utility advisory board at his former home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said he is concerned the outages stems from too many people using an older power system.

Residents told the RNO they would hear a loud popping sound from a power pole on Odgen Street, followed soon after by a loss of power. But when Swallow Hill reported this to Xcel, the power company didn’t have an answer, Chiari said.

Stutz said this was partially because Xcel was unsure at the time about the cause of the outages. Xcel focused its efforts on a six-block area from Colfax to East 16th avenues and from Clarkson Street east toward Downing. Outages in this area affected 350 customers.

But businesses and residences outside of that area were experiencing power failures as well. Will Trautman, co-owner of Stoney’s Uptown Joint, said the restaurant experienced 13 outages between June and early August.

Stoney’s, 1035 E. 17th Ave., is just outside of Xcel’s focus area. Like many of the area’s houses and neighborhoods, Trautman said the restaurant is on a three-phase power system. If one of the phases goes down, Stoney’s loses power. In the first outage, Trautman said the restaurant lost some food. After that, the restaurant developed a system to save perishable items. What hurt the restaurant more was losing revenue and customer trust.

“It’s just getting people back in the doors,” he said. “They’ll go someplace else because they don’t want to risk it being closed.”

One of the first outages happened during a Final Four basketball game in the spring, and several others happened on weekends during games, Trautman said.

News media reported on the outages after a sold-out concert was delayed at the Ogden Theatre on Aug. 6. After the article, a community meeting was organized for Aug. 15 at Stoney’s.

At the meeting, members of the Xcel team said they may have found the source of the problem. Stutz said a fuse was installed improperly. But because many of the fuses throughout neighborhoods look the same, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact problem spot.

An outage in July was caused by a wreck in which a car knocked down an electrical pole.

Both of those issues have been corrected and time will tell whether or not it was the root of the problem, Xcel staff said.

Chiari said he was happy to see Xcel hold the community meeting to give an update, saying it was “a legitimate response” to the issue.

Councilmember Wayne New also attended the meeting and said he would keep in contact with Xcel to provide residents with a weekly report.

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