January 31, 2019 / 4:00 AM / 19 days ago

GM halts operations at 11 Michigan plants after utility's urgent appeal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - General Motors Co said late on Wednesday it will temporarily suspend operations at 11 Michigan plants and its Warren Tech Center after a utility made an emergency appeal to users to conserve natural gas during extreme winter cold.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV also said it had canceled a shift on Thursday at both its Warren Truck and Sterling Heights Assembly plants and was considering whether it would need to cancel additional shifts.

GM said it had been asked by Consumers Energy, a unit of CMS Energy Corp, to suspend operations to allow the utility to manage supply issues after extreme cold temperatures and a fire at a compressor station.

It said workers were told not to report for the shifts at its Orion Assembly, Flint Assembly, Lansing Delta Township Assembly and Lansing Grand River Assembly plants, as well as other stamping and transmission plants on Wednesday evening and early Thursday. GM said it was still assessing when employees could return to work.

Workers at its Warren Tech Center were also told to stay home on Thursday.

In a video message posted on Facebook, CMS Energy Chief Executive Patricia Poppe said large companies, including Fiat Chrysler, Ford Motor Co and GM, had agreed to “interrupt” production schedules through Friday to tackle the issue prompted by a fire at a Michigan facility and the record-breaking cold.

Poppe said the usage cuts by large businesses were not enough, and urged 1.8 million Michigan customers to turn down thermostats as much as they could to cut natural gas use in order to protect critical facilities like hospitals and nursing homes. “I need you to take action right now,” she said.

Ford Motor said it had also taken steps to reduce energy use at its four Michigan plants supplied by Consumers Energy, but added the situation remained fluid.

A spokeswoman said it had reduced heating levels at Livonia Transmission and Van Dyke Transmission, stopped heat treatment processes at Sterling Axle and shut down the paint process at Michigan Assembly.

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Consumers Energy sent an alert to mobile phones in Michigan asking residents to reduce natural gas use.

In a Twitter message, Consumers Energy warned that “without additional reductions, we run the risk of not being able to deliver natural gas to families and critical facilities across Michigan – a scenario none of us want to encounter.”

Consumers Energy said a fire at a gas compressor station in Michigan’s Macomb County Wednesday forced it to halt gas flow from the compressor station until safety and damage assessments could be completed.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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