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Conserving propane
Tips for enduring the propane shortage:
•Turn down your thermostat, monitor your household’s use of hot water and time cooking using the stove or oven.
•Closely monitor your propane tank’s levels, as delayed home deliveries may result from the overall supply shortage.
•If possible, use alternative sources of heat to supplement your household’s use of propane.
•Hoosiers who suspect price gouging can call the Office of the Indiana Attorney General’s hotline at 1-866-241-9753 or go to www.indianaconsumer.com.
Source: Office of the Indiana Attorney General
Heating help
•Low-income residents may be able to receive assistance with heating costs. Call the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority’s Energy Assistance Program at 1-800-872-0371 or the United Way of Allen County’s social services referral hotline at 211 to connect with local organizations that are providing assistance.
Samuel Hoffman | Journal Gazette
Randy Palan keeps his thermostat low to conserve propane. A kerosene blower helps.

Residents feel pinch of propane

High demand, low stock makes prices skyrocket

Noble County resident Randy Palan isn’t out of heating fuel, but he says he has to keep his thermostat in the low 60s to conserve energy and keep his 500-gallon tank from going empty.

He is on a waiting list.

The combination of icy temperatures, increased demand for crop drying and routine industry equipment maintenance has pushed the price of propane from as little as $1.50 a gallon to more than $4 in some areas.

Rural homeowners in northeast Indiana are grappling with a propane gas crunch that has them paying more to heat their houses – if at all.

“I know there are others who have less propane than me, so I understand that they need to be taken care of first,” said Palan, an hourly worker at the GM Allen County truck assembly plant. “I have a good job, but some folks on fixed incomes are having a hard time. My thing is that it never should have gotten to this point.”

Propane companies are asking customers to conserve energy. For instance, United Oil Corp. in Columbia City is advising customers to keep thermostats around 50 degrees, eat out instead of cook at home, or stay with relatives until the cold snap ends.

The Propane Education & Research Council said the real problem for many states is transporting propane from where it’s stored to where it’s needed. Federal and state authorities have issued orders to hasten the shipment of propane in 30 states, including lifting hours-of-service exemptions.

States in the Midwest and the East are experiencing a large spike in demand because of extreme weather patterns and low temperatures, research council officials said.

Palan isn’t buying it.

“This whole thing just seems like a way to price-gouge people,” he said.

According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Hoosiers annually spend $400 million on propane, compared with $14.3 billion nationwide.

Gov. Mike Pence on Wednesday ordered restrictions on propane transportation to be eased through March 1 to help increase the state’s supply. Drivers’ hours are typically limited, which has affected the amount of propane available. The order was to expire Friday, but Pence said the extended emergency proclamation was warranted.

“Hoosier homeowners, businesses and the farming community are facing propane shortages and unrelenting temperatures, and the state continues to exhaust all possible options to alleviate the impact of this crisis,” Pence said in a statement. “As in the past, the compassionate nature of Hoosiers is evident, and I urge all to be mindful of their propane usage, and I ask those who might have a surplus to help their neighbors in need.”

On the federal front, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, and other Hoosier lawmakers sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx requesting that they extend an emergency exemption of limits on fuel delivery drivers’ work hours. The exemption is set to expire Feb. 11, but lawmakers want to ensure there is no disruption in deliveries.

Nearly 10 percent of Hoosiers use propane for residential heating, and Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he doesn’t want them taken advantage of.

“In the majority of instances, propane prices are being driven by substantial market forces,” he said in a Wednesday statement. “However, this emergency authority allows my office to thoroughly investigate price gouging complaints to determine if any violations exist.”

Joe Dorsey, general manager of United Oil in Columbia City, said the industry is simply trying to respond to some very trying circumstances.

“It really took a perfect storm for this to happen,” he said. “The cold weather, the farmers needing more propane for their dryers and other things just all came together. I really don’t think anyone is trying to price-gouge anybody.”

United Oil has about 2,000 customers who either lease a propane tank or require their own to be filled.

At Propane People Inc. in Waterloo, the situation with customers is the same.

“We have had to turn people away,” said Melissa Chorpenning, general manager. “It isn’t easy, and it makes me not sleep at night, that’s for sure.”

Propane People has about 1,500 customers. Chorpenning said she is servicing her regulars, but walk-ins can forget about trying to fill their tanks.

“You just hope things gets better, for everyone’s sake,” Chorpenning said.

pwyche@jg.net

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