Working as One

On the evening of December 26th, Black Hills Energy and police in Aspen, Colorado began receiving information that there was a problem at several natural gas stations across the city. As temperatures dropped in the depth of winter, this was clearly going to be a problem, and Black Hills Energy employees took swift action to make sure their customers would have the energy, and the heat, they needed.

In those first hours, Black Hills Energy began to implement its emergency procedures to help keep customers safe and warm. This included not only a herculean effort to distribute 400 space heaters bought from Xcel Energy, but also a call for help from surrounding utilities, using the framework from AGA’s Mutual Assistance Program.

While not activated for this incident, AGA sponsors the National Mutual Aid Program. A voluntary, no-fee mutual assistance program designed to suit the wide variety of needs of its member companies across the United States and Canada. Members include a coalition of AGA member companies, which agree to a set of baseline provisions that govern mutual assistance and agree to maintain an updated database with emergency contacts.

With the case in Aspen, customers needed their service turned on as quickly and safely as possible. When Black Hills Energy requested assistance, surrounding utilities stepped up to help. Technicians soon started arriving from states as far as Nebraska and Iowa. In all, more than 200 technicians arrived to assist with restoring service for customers.

Because of the strict regulations that govern the natural gas delivery system, technicians can follow the same procedures and use the same tools across the country, and in this case, allow them to operate efficiently and effectively in Aspen.

Moments like this, while rare, highlight the detailed levels of emergency preparedness put in place by natural gas utilities to ensure they can meet the needs of their customers, and the strong partnerships they maintain with community partners like first responders and local government.

Local utilities take considerable pride in playing a role in the communities they serve, and this is a perfect example of the plans, preparation and demanding work that is a hallmark of the industry to make sure customers have the energy they need and expect.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo summarized it perfectly when technicians came to restore service to his own home:

“They were incredibly selfless and happy to help us,” DiSalvo said to the Aspen Times. “They really felt like they were doing the community a good deed, which they were. I said, ‘You guys are heroic.’”

The restoration process went off without a hitch and it is thanks to the training and planning that Black Hills Energy, and all natural gas utilities, put into delivering clean, affordable, and reliable natural gas.