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Xcel says it is working on plan to curb Fargo power outages

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Xcel Energy has replaced more than a mile of old underground cable in Fargo as part of an effort to help curb a spate of power outages that have bedeviled the state’s biggest city in recent weeks, the utility told North Dakota regulators Wednesday.

Several officials from the Minneapolis-based utility met with North Dakota’s Public Service Commission and said that the replaced segment of buried cable near downtown Fargo is part of an accelerated effort aimed reducing electric service problems. Eight outages have happened since late April, affecting more than 24,000 customers.

“We take this spate of outages very seriously,” Laura McCarten, a company vice president, told the three-member panel. “We’re working hard to improve reliability and we thing we have moved the needle on that.”

The utility said two outages were caused by defective underground cables, which typically are the biggest culprit of power outages. Other causes included lightning and animals and trees coming in contact with overhead lines. One outage was caused by a power pole that caught fire.

The largest outage in early May left more than 5,660 customers in the dark, but officials said they still do not know the cause of that outage.

Xcel serves more than 94,000 electric customers in Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot and a number of smaller communities.

The company said its North Dakota customers historically have suffered fewer outages than customers in the seven other states it serves. But power outages in the Fargo area have been recurring for years.

“It’s almost like there’s gremlins in the Fargo system because I know you’ve worked hard on it,” PSC Commissioner Brian Kalk told Xcel officials.

Xcel has a 2012 accord with the PSC that is part of $15.7 million electric rate increase that the panel approved after including provisions aimed at reducing electric service problems in Fargo. Xcel cannot seek a new rate increase to recoup additional repair costs in its system until 2018. The company is slated to present more details of its plans next month.

“Let’s get it done,” PSC chairwoman Julie Fedorchak said of the cable replacement. “We know this is causing trouble.”

Related: North Dakota education thrives despite oil bust.

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