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Over 100,000 in Upper Midwest Urged to Lower Thermostats Following Canadian Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion

Nearly 46,000 in Chippewa Valley, Wisconsin received surprise wake-up calls late Saturday and early Sunday requesting they turn down their heat despite the subzero temperatures outside.

The automated telephone calls from Xcel Energy urging people to turn their thermostats to 60 degrees or lower to prevent a power outage startled some from their sleep.

“You just don’t expect the phone to ring in the middle of the night,” June Thompson of Eau Claire said. “It was a surprise.”

Xcel officials didn’t intend to awaken people, company spokeswoman Liz Wolf Green said. But Xcel officials decided to send out automated calls to more than 100,000 customers in Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota when they learned late Saturday that repairs to a ruptured natural gas pipeline in Manitoba they had been told would be fixed by day’s end would not be.

Two other pipelines that provide natural gas to this part of the country also were shut down for inspections.

That news prompted Xcel to notify customers to turn down their thermostats, an effort to prevent Xcel’s system from being overtaxed. The company sent out automated phone calls to customers, but that process takes several hours, Green said, resulting in the late-night and early-morning phone calls.

“We felt the situation was serious,” Green said. “Unfortunately, it takes a few hours for those calls to get out. Some people got calls by 11 p.m., but for others it wasn’t until midnight or 1 a.m.”

Those phone calls worked. Many customers, residential and commercial, willingly reduced their natural gas usage, allowing Xcel to stabilize its system and prevent power outages, Green said. A second round of calls Sunday evening requested customers to continue to keep the heat down.

On Monday about 100,000 customers were able to turn their thermostats back above 60 degrees after Minneapolis-based Xcel lifted its appeal for natural gas conservation. The company continued to restore normal natural gas transmission service to its Upper Midwest territory. ___

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