The Michigan Public Service Commission is demanding Consumers Energy take more action to prevent a possible repeat of a fire last January.
That fire broke out at the utility’s Ray Township compressor station on Jan. 31, during frigid temperatures at the height of the polar vortex.
It forced a statewide emergency effort to curtail natural gas use. And it raised questions about the reliability of Michigan’s power grid during extreme weather events.
According to Consumers’ own report on the incident, the fire was caused by an emergency natural gas release from what are known as blowdown stacks. That, combined with wind conditions, carried a natural gas cloud over another portion of the facility, where it ignited.
MPSC spokesman Nick Assendelft says the commission is urging Consumers to do a system-wide study of compressor station blowdown methods. “Basically they can look at the locations of those blowdown stacks, and also their design to see whether some changes need to be made for that,” Assendelft said.
Assendelft says the MPSC also ordered Consumers to:
- Make changes at its incident command stations used for emergencies
- File reports on the Ray storage field natural gas injection timeline, status of facility repairs, and Ray capacity for the 2019-20 heating season.
- Detail the status of any changes or repairs at the facility.
Assendelft says the MPSC is still conducting its own “root cause analysis” of the fire. That’s due in January 2020.
Assendelft says these measures should provide some level of confidence in the meantime.
“We really need to see from our own independent root cause analysis if there are any further steps that we need them to make,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have some ideas in terms of some long-term changes or long-term processes that we want to put in place after we have our own independent analysis in hand, and have a chance to review that.”
“We are reviewing the order from the MPSC and are already underway with modifications to our Ray Compressor Station ahead of the fall heating season. We continue to work with the Commission and other stakeholders on this issue,” Consumers spokeswoman Katie Carey said in a statement.
The MPSC also sent a broader statewide energy assessment to Governor Gretchen Whitmer this week. It found that Michigan’s energy supply and delivery systems are adequate to meet customer needs, but also makes suggestions to “add resiliency to the state’s energy systems.” The agency is seeking public comment on the report until Aug. 9.
Editor's note: Consumers Energy is a corporate sponsor of Michigan Radio.