Record-breaking cold from the polar vortex, combined with a fire at a gas compressor station in Michigan, is causing utility companies in the Midwest to ask customers to turn thermostats down, even as bitter conditions drag on.
The blaze at the Consumers Energy natural gas compressor station north of Detroit on Wednesday prompted Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to ask all residents in the Lower Peninsula part of the state to lower thermostats to 65 degrees or below through Friday.
"I’m coming to you now to ask for your help," she said in a statement. "Due to extremely high demand for natural gas with these record low temperatures and a facility incident, Consumers Energy has asked that everyone who is able to turn down their thermostats through Friday at noon so we can all get through this with minimal harm."
No one was injured in the fire Wednesday at Consumers Energy's Ray Natural Gas Compressor Station in Macomb County. The cause of the fire was under investigation. The company said all gas flow from the station was shut off, and that it activated natural gas peaking storage fields to help meet demand for gas to heat homes and businesses.
Consumers Energy's CEO Patti Poppe made an appeal Wednesday night for customers to reduce their natural gas usage. Localized outages were possible for some homes and businesses if demand isn't reduced.
An emergency alert was sent late Wednesday to cellphones asking people to lower thermostats, and Consumers Energy asked its largest business customers, such as automakers, to reduce natural gas usage.
Consumers Energy said in a statement Thursday that it's "cautiously optimistic" its requests to curb natural gas use are "having a positive effect."
"However, with Thursday’s continued historically cold weather, we ask that conservation measures continue through the end of the day Friday, Feb. 1," the company said.
The incident caused General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler to either close or reduce shifts Thursday morning at certain plants to help conserve gas usage, FOX2 reported.
Similar requests were made in Minnesota, where utility Xcel Energy asked all its customers in the state to reduce their thermostats to 63 degrees due to a natural gas shortage in parts of the state.
The utility said Thursday it was asking people to keep reducing thermostats until at least 9 a.m. on Thursday.
"This step can help ensure that all of our customers continue to have gas service during this bitterly cold weather," Xcel said.
The company made the announcement just hours after first asking residents in the Princeton, Minn. area to do the same after a shortage was reported on Wednesday, according to FOX9.
At least ten people — including a college student and Indiana police officer — are dead as a result of the bitter, record-breaking deep freeze brought on by the polar vortex that's slammed the Midwest most of the week.
Though the National Weather Service said temperatures will "slowly begin to moderate," the bone-chilling cold on Thursday still shuttered schools and caused the U.S. Postal Service to suspend mail delivery in several states.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.