BLP, Michigan Gas not impacted by Consumers gas shortage

Alexander Sinn • Jan 31, 2019 at 11:05 AM

Although Consumers Energy says it is facing a gas shortage after a fire at a compressor station in southeastern Michigan, local gas and electric utilities say they are not experiencing shortages or other issues during this week’s polar vortex. 

The Jackson-based Consumers Energy says no one was hurt in the fire at its Ray Natural Gas Compressor Station in Macomb County. The fire is under investigation.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used a statewide text alert Wednesday night to urge all Lower Peninsula residents to lower their home thermostats. Earlier this week, Whitmer declared a state of emergency as a polar vortex descended on the Midwest.

Consumers Energy and state officials are asking customers to voluntarily lower their thermostats to 65 degrees while at home, and 62 when away, to reduce the burden on the natural gas supply. This request is in effect until midnight Thursday. Temperatures are expected to increase into the weekend.

According to Brian Wheeler, senior public information director for Consumers Energy, the company has approximately 40 gas customers in Ottawa County. 

Wheeler said the request to lower thermostats was sent out to all Michigan residents because Consumers Energy’s gas resources are connected to other utilities throughout the system. The gas shortage, however, only affects Consumers Energy, Wheeler said. 

Michigan Gas Utilities customers are not affected by the incident, according to Matt Cullen, a spokesman for the company. Michigan Gas did not ask its customers to lower their thermostats.

The Board of Light & Power, which provides electricity to the city of Grand Haven and some surrounding areas, has not been impacted by the low temperatures. The utility is facing a low load due to local shops and schools closing, according to BLP Communications Director Renee Molyneux. The BLP is stocked with enough coal to last through the winter, Molyneux said, and the Sims plant on Harbor Island is running normally.

BLP crews and meter technicians have only been dispatched for emergency work the past few days, Molyneux said. Non-emergency work is expected to resume Friday.

BLP General Manager Dave Walters said the incident at Consumers Energy only affects that company’s gas customers, and is a localized issue. It does not have an impact on gas or electric transmission lines.

On Wednesday, the price of electricity skyrocketed briefly as wind turbines in the Midwest were shut down due to ice buildup. The BLP, which has been relying this winter on its coal-fired Sims plant, was able to sell energy for a few hours before the market adjusted and prices normalized.

The blip in the power supply provided an opportunity for utilities like the BLP, Walters said, but the reliability for customers has not been threatened by the cold weather.

“What we do internally to Grand Haven is quite insignificant compared to reliability of the system as a whole,” he said. “It had nothing to do with reliability. It had to do with cold weather and wind being too great for wind turbines scheduled to operate.”

Michigan Gas recommends taking steps to ensure safe home heating. Residents should make sure carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are installed at all levels of their home, and check that natural gas meters and appliance vents are not covered with ice or snow.

To remove ice and snow from vents, use your hands or a broom. Using a shovel could damage the meter and cause a gas leak, Cullen said.

Furnace filters should be cleared of dirt and debris to ensure efficiency. Customers can draw back windows during the day to allow natural sunlight to heat the home, while gaps should be sealed along doors and windows.

Ceiling fans can be set to circulate cool or warm air, and fan rotation should be set to move around warm air that has risen to the ceiling.

Auto plants and other big energy users throughout southeastern Michigan shut down or limited operations due to a natural gas shortage caused by the Consumers Energy station fire and frigid weather. Eighteen factories and other facilities run by General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler were affected Thursday. It's not clear when they'll resume normal operations.

According to Consumers Energy, gas flow from the Macomb County station has been shut off, and natural gas peaking storage fields were activated to help meet demand. The company services 1.8 million natural gas customers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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