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Storm causes strain on utilities, energy emergency declared

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Governor Rick Snyder made the declaration of an energy emergency late Friday afternoon.

The deep freeze this week has led to a shortage of heating oil and propane.

The sub-zero temperatures drove up demand, while the snow brought deliveries to a halt.

The energy emergency suspends state and federal regulations on the transport of propane and heating oil so drivers can get caught up.

The polar vortex and the rapid drop in temperatures it caused put a strain on utilities across the midwest and east coast; especially when it came to natural gas usage.

"To keep your house at 72 degrees and it's 4 below outside it takes that much more capacity," said Roger Royer of DTE Energy.

Royer says, amazingly, it wasn't a problem in West Michigan, thanks to some natural resources in Big Rapids.

"There are huge fields of storage that allow us to keep natural gas underground and pull it out for the winter season," Royer said.

On Monday, DTE had to draw more natural gas from those fields than ever before--2.1 billion cubic feet--to meet consumer usage in sub-zero temperatures.

"It was one of the top 10 biggest storms in terms of customer outages in our 126 year history," said Consumers Energy spokesman Roger Morgenstern.

According to Morgenstern, those outages topped 400,000.

"That was all hands on deck, you know, we had more than a thousand of our employees, a couple thousand more from out of state, we had 3,000 people working on this storm," he said.

But it left little time for meter reading.

Customers who spent up to a week in the dark, often at great personal cost, are getting bills for power they didn't have.

"That bill is estimated based on previous usage over the last 12 months," Morgenstern said.

But after the storm, he says Consumers is doing everything possible to make it right.

"We will work with our customers, we'll work out payment plans, we don't know how to help until we hear from the customers," he said.