Xcel natural gas service expected to be on ‘high alert’
FARGO – Xcel Energy expects to be on “high alert” for the next three days as temperatures plunge below zero during a natural gas shortage caused by a ruptured pipeline.
As of late Sunday afternoon, Mark Nisbet, Xcel’s principal manager in North Dakota, said the company had not yet received word about whether TransCanada will be able to restore one of three pipelines knocked out of service by an explosion Saturday south of Winnipeg.
“We’re going to be on high alert for the next three days unless something changes drastically,” he said.
Xcel Energy, which already has asked natural gas customers to turn their thermostats down to 60 degrees, now is asking them to consider going even lower, as low as 55 degrees, or as low as they believe is safe.
So far, customers have complied, and have kept the natural gas system stable even in the midst of severe winter cold, Nisbet said.
“We saw the needle move when we saw our residential customers respond,” he said. Xcel appreciates customers’ cooperation, and asks them to keep conserving to maintain stability in the system.
The worry is that gas supplies in the system could drop to a level that some furnace pilot lights would go off, and would have to be relighted, he said.
In preparation for that possibility, Xcel has brought in additional crews to be on standby to dispatch where needed, Nisbet said.
“We’re going to have a pretty sizeable crew if we have to get in there to relight customers,” he said.
TransCanada pipeline crews are trying to determine whether they can bring one of three gas lines back into service following an explosion of one of the lines Saturday south of Winnipeg.
One TransCanada pipeline ruptured and exploded, and two nearby pipelines also were shut down as a precaution and so a damage assessment can be made.
“One of them appears to be in better shape,” Nisbet said. “We’re working on that.”
Meanwhile, Xcel is getting natural gas from the area around the Twin Cities and Michigan to supply the areas in North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Xcel natural gas customers have received automated phone calls asking them to turn their thermostats to 60 degrees to conserve fuel, unless doing so would pose a danger to their health or safety.
“We’ve gotten good response from the customers to help us do that,” but continued conservation will be required, Nisbet said.
The pipelines supply the main source of natural gas to more than 100,000 Xcel customers in eastern North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Xcel has asked almost 600 commercial customers in North Dakota and Minnesota, as well as 250 in Wisconsin and Michigan, to lower their natural gas usage. The businesses are part of the utility’s “Interruptible Gas Rates” program.
Monday’s high is expected to be 14 below, with the low Monday night dropping to 25 below.