Source: The Corydon Democrat

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Propane shortage has some fuming

by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor

February 04, 2014

David Schroeder of near Crandall checks the gauge on his underground propane tank. The meter indicated he had about 30 percent left. Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor
With a winter that has seen plenty of days at below-freezing temperatures, some residents are boiling at the cost of propane.

Paul Jekel of New Salisbury was shocked when he checked the ticket left by his propane supplier after he had his 250-gallon tank filled last week.

Jekel, who leases his tank from Ferrellgas Inc., said he's done business with the Corydon company "for many years," dating back at least a couple of decades when it was Skelgas.

"I'd been watching (the tank's meter) pretty close," he said.

When the meter showed there was 20 percent of propane remaining, Jekel called and placed an order for more.

"I was told it would be sometime the following week" before it would be delivered, he said. "They didn't tell me there was a shortage; they never told me I had to stretch it out."

The delivery was made Jan. 27. Jekel, who lives on a monthly pension, said he wasn't home at the time.

"I live a simple life," he said. "I don't have a computer, and I don't watch the news."

So, when Jekel looked at the delivery ticket and saw a total bill of $701.94, he was angry.

The $4.67-per-gallon price, which Jekel called "extortion" and "price gouging," was nearly double what he said he had been paying recently.

"I usually get it during the summer," he said. "It's been between $2.09 and $2.29."

David Schroeder of near Crandall was lucky when he requested more propane for his tank.

"I ordered propane (Jan. 20) but did not receive it until the following Saturday due to demand," he said.

He was told by his supplier that, if he had ordered it on Jan. 25, he would have paid $5 per gallon. Instead, he was able to get it for $2.78

"The price went from $1.90 on Dec. 4 to $2.78 when I ordered it," Schroeder said.

Propane suppliers say there was a shortage before winter arrived, as a larger quantity of propane was used after a wet summer to keep grain dry. And, to add to the reduction, propane producers generally ship propane overseas to increase profits.

State Sen. Richard D. Young Jr., D-Milltown, said that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has issued an emergency declaration of the Southern Indiana region, but he is trying to get additional relief for propane users.

"The action (by the U.S. DOT) has some effect on delivery of propane but does nothing to help the supply," Young said. "In response, I have contacted Gov. Mike Pence for additional help."

Young has urged Pence to declare a state of emergency.

"This situation is a serious crisis that demands action by the governor," he said. "We need to protect Hoosiers from both the cold and from any price-gouging associated with the shortage in supply."

Young voted last week to approve an amendment to Senate Bill which would require the sales tax collected in January through March by propane companies on purchases that exceed $2.50 a gallon be credited to consumers toward their future purchases.

"Price-gouging protections must be acted upon if the governor takes the urgently needed step of declaring a state of emergency," Young said. "I have asked him to take this measure, as other states have done, to mitigate this crisis as soon as possible."

Young encouraged consumers, like Jekel, who believe they may have been charged an exorbiant amount, to contact the Consumer Complaint Division of the Attorney General's office by calling 1-866-241-9753 or online at www.IndianaConsumer.com.

For Jekel, he said his bill is "almost more than I draw a month."

A phone call to one local propane supplier was not returned by press time yesterday, and the number to another supplier was busy when called.