Xcel cleared on federal charges

Xcel Energy Inc. (NYSE: XCL) and its unit, Public Service Co. of Colorado, were acquitted of five counts of violating federal safety regulations June 28 following the 2007 deaths of five workers in a tunnel at a 320 MW pumped hydroelectric facility, according to the Associated Press.

Xcel and Public Service Co. each had been charged with five counts of violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. A report from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board in September 2010 said the accident at the Cabin Creek pumped storage facility was caused by several lapses in safety, including the lack of an escape route in an emergency.

Federal prosecutors argued that Xcel knew about dangerous conditions inside the tunnel and violated U.S. safety regulations. Xcel’s attorney argued the utility followed the law and that the workers’ contracting company, RPI Coating Inc., was responsible. RPI Coating is facing federal charges and a trial will be held at a later date.

A flammable solvent the workers were using to clean an epoxy paint sprayer ignited in October 2007 at the Cabin Creek plant, trapping the workers in the tunnel and igniting other buckets of solvent. They communicated by radio for 45 minutes before being overcome by smoke and fumes.

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