Consumers Energy asked customers on Wednesday night to lower their natural gas consumption after a fire earlier in the day at a key factory in Macomb County, producing "a previously unharmed crisis."
The tool can't ask again. After a fire in the Macomb County plant that supplies 64 percent of the natural gas in Michigan, its CEO said involuntary reductions to homes and businesses may follow for some of his 1.8 million customers.
CEO Patti Poppe, who took to Facebook Live late Wednesday for a personal appeal to consumers to lower their thermostats (Photo: Facebook page of Consumer Energy Energy)
With temperatures in Michigan forecast to plunge well below zero early Thursday, consumers expect demand to reach 3.7 billion cubic meters of natural gas, well above the 1.25 billion cubic meters seen on a typical winter day, CEO Patti Poppe said. 
"This is truly a hitherto undamaged crisis," she said. "We have never been to this situation before."
The plant in Armada Township produces far less after extensive fire damage involving equipment supplying the gas, said Poppe, who took to Facebook Live late Wednesday for personal personal appeal to consumers to lower their thermostats.
"If we do not get the reduction in demand and if the system does not flow properly in any other way," she told The Detroit News after the video footage, the company could start notifying commercial and private customers of "localized planned constraints."
This means that companies and homes in some areas will have energy shut down for short periods. "Relighting," the process of restoring it, "takes a very long time," Poppe said. "That's what we're trying to avoid."
Poppe said that the Armada Township site of the fire, which affected two of three entities that drew natural gas, was prepared for the high demand among the polar vortex that seized the state and the region until Wednesday morning sent the facility off-line.
"We have lots of gas" stored, Poppe said. "We just can't get it out of the ground to bring to our customers because the equipment that supplies it is what is damaged."
Crews brought one of the units back online on Wednesday, but that means that the plant can only produce part of the typical production, Poppe said.
As a result of the fire, consumers announced that it was activating natural gas-bearing storage areas in Northville and St. Clair County to help deliver natural gas to homes and businesses.  Industrial customers such as General Motors suspension operations are also "a big step but not enough," Poppe said. "Housing heating drives demand under such conditions."
Therefore, in order to save energy and avoid overloading the system, the company asks customers to set the thermostat to 65 degrees while at home and 62 when they are looking for five hours to Friday.
"It can make a difference," Poppe said. "If people can work with us, Saturdays go sufficiently, so we can easily serve the demand."
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