$10,000 fine closes probe into utility’s polar vortex fire

Michigan
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A file image shows a fire at a Consumers Energy compressor station in southeast Michigan. (January 2019)

RICHMOND, Mich. (AP) — Consumers Energy agreed to pay a $10,000 to settle an investigation of a natural gas fire in southeastern Michigan that forced people to conserve heat for a few days during a polar vortex in 2019, state regulators said Friday.

The Michigan Public Service Commission accepted the findings of its staff, which found that the fire was caused by a voltage spike. A plume of natural gas was released at a major gas compressor station in Macomb County.

Combined with record-low temperatures and high winds blanketing the state, the natural gas did not disperse as it typically would and came into contact with nearby plant equipment that operates at a high temperature, thereby igniting the airborne gas and causing the fire,” the commission said in a statement.

Commission staff identified a violation of federal safety standards.

The fire forced the company to restrict gas service to industrial customers and ask residents to set thermostats at 65 degrees or lower for a few days. Parts of the Lower Peninsula had received more than a foot of snow in late January 2019, and wind chills were 20 degrees below zero.

Consumers spokeswoman Katie Carey said the event was unprecedented.

“We appreciate and thank our customers across Michigan for all they did. … We did what was necessary to keep homes warm while safely returning the facility to operations in order to serve customers during the extreme cold temperatures during historically high demand for natural gas,” Carey said Friday.

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