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Michigan Utility Companies Ask Customers to Turn Down Heat in Minus-12-Degree Cold After Fire at Gas Plant

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Utility companies in Michigan asked customers to turn down their thermostats as low as they could stand Wednesday to prevent possible heat outages — as temperatures dropped to minus-12 degrees overnight.

A fire at a gas compressor station Wednesday morning forced Consumers Energy to halt gas flow from the affected facility until safety inspections were complete, cutting into the supply just when demand is surging due to the polar vortex, according to a company statement.

Consumers Energy executives asked customers to voluntarily turn down their thermostats to 65 degrees or below, and encouraged industrial customers to temporarily pause operations in an effort to conserve resources.

Consumers Energy also sent a text alert about the natural gas reduction to customers’ cell phones on Wednesday, the Detroit Free Press reports, and CEO Patti Poppe addressed customers on Facebook Live Wednesday night, when temperatures in Detroit remained well below zero.

“We have an opportunity to protect the system so that we can deliver enough gas for everyone to have some heat and to protect our most critical facilities, like hospitals and senior citizens’ homes,” Poppe said. “You can make a difference.”

Industrial customers, including General Motors and Ford, have also curtailed operations in an effort to save resources, the Free Press reports. GM has halted production at four assembly facilities and seven support centers, while Ford has reduced energy use at its four plants powered by Consumers, Crain’s Detroit Business reports.

Meanwhile, utility company DTE Energy issued a similar request to customers. In a statement, the company said its plants are still operating normally, but are linked to energy grids in other areas that have been affected by the extreme cold, potentially putting supply at risk.

DTE called on customers to “dial down the thermostat several degrees,” limit the use of electronic appliances, turn off all unnecessary lights and seal off doors and windows.

“While we’re expecting some relief later in the week from the polar vortex, it’s important that the electrical grid get help from our customers today,” Executive Director of Generation Optimization Christy Wicke said in the statement. “If every DTE Energy customer does just a little bit, energy demand can be substantially reduced – and that will help maintain reliability of the entire grid during the sub-zero temperatures.”

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Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com