Natural Gas Shortage Hits Midwest Amid ‘Polar Vortex,’ Forces GM To Shutter 13 Plants

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

Midwestern states are experiencing natural gas shortages amid subzero temperatures, including in Michigan, where GM shuttered more than a dozen plants and told thousands of employees to work from home.

GM halted work at four assembly plants and nine supporting facilities Wednesday night after utility Consumers Energy asked customers to help conserve natural gas, Automotive News (AN) reported.

GM also asked “about 20,000 employees at its Warren Tech Center and 4,000 at the Pontiac Propulsion campus to work from home through at least Friday,” according to Crain’s Detroit.

A “polar vortex” event brought record-cold, subzero temperatures into the Midwest on Wednesday. The cold persisted and led to a record-low minus 13 degrees in Detroit Thursday morning.

Fiat Chrysler Ford Motor Co. also cut natural gas use and interrupted production schedules, AN reported. Fiat canceled a shift at two assembly plants and was considering canceling more to further reduce energy use. (RELATED: Media Rushes To Tie Record-Breaking Cold On Global Warming)

A man runs by the Chicago River during subzero temperatures carried by the polar vortex, in Chicago

A man runs by the Chicago River during subzero temperatures carried by the polar vortex, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek.

Local news reports point to a “fire at a utility’s suburban Detroit facility” that forced Consumers Energy to ask customers to use less energy. CEO Patti Poppe told Detroit News “localized planned curtailments” would be needed if energy isn’t reduced enough.

Consumers Energy has a severe weather warning out for customers, warning the extreme cold “could cause outages.” However, the utility reported only a few dozen people without power as of Thursday morning.

Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also asked residents to turn down thermostats to 65 degrees or lower to conserve power.

Utility DTE Energy is also asking consumers to use less energy to ensure grid reliability. The utility said that while its own lines were performing well, “our system is connected to energy grids in other states and Canada that are experiencing issues due to the extreme weather.”

Michigan isn’t alone. Utility Xcel Energy asked customers in parts of Minnesota to reduce natural gas usage to prevent widespread outages. Customers have been asked to turn thermostats down to 55 degrees.

Minnesota suffered through wind chills in the minus-60 degrees range beginning Wednesday. Minneapolis was minus 21 degrees Thursday morning, with an expected high of minus 1 degree.

CBS Minnesota reported “more than 7,000 lost power in the metro Tuesday evening” due to equipment failures. Power has since been restored.

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