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Xcel Energy working to prevent Fargo-area power outages

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Xcel Energy told North Dakota regulators Thursday that it continues working to prevent power outages that have affected Fargo in recent weeks.

The five outages in the city since April 22 are the latest in a spate of electrical interruptions over the past few years that have forced the utility to credit inconvenienced customers’ electric bills.

“We would hope to stem that tide,” Mark Nisbet, the company’s North Dakota manager, told the state Public Service Commission.

The Minneapolis-based utility has an agreement with North Dakota’s Public Service Commission that forces the company to provide a $50 credit for customers who have had four or more outages of at least 5 minutes. The company has given more than $392,000 in credits to about 7,800 customers since the agreement was done in 2012, records show.

The bulk of the credits — $284,000 — will be applied this month for 5,582 customers in Fargo and Grand Forks for outages experienced in 2015.

Despite the outages already this year, no customers have qualified for the credit yet, Nisbet said.

Xcel serves more than 94,000 electric customers in Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot and a number of smaller communities. Otter Tail Power Co. and Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. also provide electric service in North Dakota, though Xcel is the largest.

Julie Fedorchak, the PSC chairwoman, said Xcel’s history of outages is no worse than the other companies, and in some cases better. Commissioner Brian Kalk, however, said the outages in Fargo, the state’s biggest city, are “perplexing” compared to the remainder of its service area.

Xcel’s 2012 accord with the North Dakota PSC was part of $15.7 million electric rate increase that the three-member panel approved after including provisions aimed at reducing electric service problems in Fargo.

The agreement also allows the company to collect $1.5 million from its North Dakota customers if service interruptions are 57 minutes for its average customer. Xcel has never met that threshold, though it did miss it only 6 seconds in 2014, records show.

The agreement is the only one of its kind within Xcel’s eight-state utility service network, Nisbet said.

Xcel, as part of the 2012 rate settlement, said it installed sophisticated electric switches in Fargo that enable the company to isolate power outages and make sure they do not affect broader service areas. Xcel also agreed to hire tree-trimming crews to keep branches from damaging power lines. The company also has been replacing some aging power lines and underground cables. Nisbet said those efforts may be accelerated.

Related: Maxwells Restaurant in West Fargo Announces Ownership Change.

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