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Winter heating crisis hits the North PDF Print E-mail

Propane reaches unprecedented $6 a gallon

By Gary Ridderbusch

News-Review Editor

With propane prices soaring to record levels, worried consumers in Wisconsin — including the North Woods —  are scrambling to secure fuel to heat their homes and businesses.

Meanwhile, on Monday Gov. Scott Walker declared a State of Emergency in response to the propane shortage impacting the state in advance of the extremely dangerous temperatures moving across the state this week. The declaration directs all state agencies to be on alert and assist as needed.

The spike in prices is unprecedented,

according to propane gas organizations. While the cost of a gallon of propane for the customer is generally in the $1.80 to $2.20 range, propane customers in the North Woods are being quoted $5 to $6 a gallon.


Because Vilas, Oneida and Forest counties are very rural, many homes and businesses are heated by propane, with the fuel typically stored in 500-gallon tanks.

Some dealers are limiting deliveries to 100 gallons per customer so they can meet the needs of as many people as possible.

Brandon Scholz, executive director of the Wisconsin Propane Gas Association, said this has been a challenging time, not only for consumers but for dealers. He said there are dealers who don’t have enough supply to meet customer demand.

There are reports that some dealerships are being limited to less-than-full truckloads of propane when they go to their suppliers for the fuel, according to Scholz.

The supply shortage in the Upper Midwest has caused delivery delays and reduced delivery amounts for propane customers in Wisconsin, as well as all Midwestern states.  Officials say the propane shortage has been caused by:

— unusually cold winter temperatures;

— a major pipeline supplying propane to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa was temporarily closed for maintenance from Nov. 28 to Dec. 18; and

— a wet fall increased propane demand for grain drying.

In Wisconsin, at least, the brutal winter shows no sign of letting up. The forecast high temperature for Eagle River Monday and Tuesday was 10 degrees below zero.


Natural gas, pellets

Bitter cold temperatures expected through Wednesday morning will push natural gas use to near record levels, Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) officials said Monday.  They also say the natural gas supply is adequate to serve customers, barring the unforeseen.

“We set a daily record for natural gas use earlier this month during the polar vortex deep freeze,” said Ron Mosnik, WPS director of gas supply. “We think we’ll approach that level in the next couple days.”

WPS has curtailed gas service to its interruptible customers.  Those customers have an alternate fuel supply and receive lower rates in exchange for allowing WPS to interrupt natural gas service during periods of extremely high use.

The company has also limited its transportation customers (customers who buy gas from a different supplier that WPS distributes through its gas lines) to the amount of natural gas they deliver to the natural gas system.

WPS advises customers who choose to use other alternatives for heating to be cautious.  Electric or fossil-fueled space heaters should only be used following the manufacturer’s instructions. They must be located away from flammable objects and in an area that allows for proper ventilation.

With the propane crisis, other sources of heat for homes and businesses are being pursued. Will Maines, a salesman at Earth Sense Energy Systems in Sayner, said interest in pellet stoves has been very high since last week.

“The propane crisis is causing it to go crazy here,” said Maines.  “We’re just swamped.”

Maines said he sold seven pellet stoves over the weekend and three more Monday. He said another six people were considering a purchase.

“The propane crisis has been a boon for us, but I still feel bad for the people who have to pay those prices for their propane,” said Maines.


State of Emergency

Gov. Walker said the health and safety of Wisconsin citizens is the No. 1 priority, and the State of Emergency declaration gives his administration the necessary resources to protect the residents of Wisconsin.

“Since last fall, we have taken action to help alleviate the impact the propane shortage is having on our state,” said Walker. “I will do everything I can within my power to help our friends and loved ones relying on propane to heat their homes or businesses during this challenging situation.”

Walker said he and his administration have taken numerous steps to help alleviate the effects the shortage is having on the 250,000 residents who use propane to heat their home or business.

Walker has issued multiple executive orders since Oct. 25, 2013, allowing propane transport drivers to log additional hours to transport more propane.  Typically, a propane driver can drive 70 hours per week based upon Wisconsin and federal laws.

Several state petroleum terminals have not been able to meet the demands of their customers and are currently on a propane rationing system.  The increased demand and limited regional supplies of propane means drivers are working more hours per day to obtain propane, causing drivers to reach maximum weekly driving and on-duty limits more quickly than normal. Carriers continue to remain responsible for ensuring they operate safely.

On Jan. 3,  the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Department of Administration authorized a weight limit relief order for vehicles transporting energy in the state in order to increase the amount of propane carried in a single trip.

At the request of Wisconsin and other Midwestern states, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a Midwest regional declaration of emergency Jan. 19, extending state emergency declarations for purposes of exempting hours of service requirements for propane and fuel transporters.

Walker issued a public service announcement Jan. 23, providing Wisconsin citizens with information about the current propane shortage and asking for their help in looking out for residents who are being impacted.

On Jan. 24, Walker directed the Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services to release $1.5 million in additional Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program Crisis Benefit dollars to the 49 counties/tribes that have a high percentage of propane households.

The Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services (DADES) has contacted approximately 23,000 low-income propane customers recommending that they contact their propane vendor when their tank reaches 30% full to ensure they continue to have heating fuel and provided information on assistance available through the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP).

DADES issued information to all of the local/partner contacts for WHEAP that outlines the benefits available to customers, including the availability of Crisis Benefit dollars to pay for lodging or temporary shelters.

Wisconsin Emergency Management has contacted local emergency management directors to monitor warming sites and shelter availability.

The Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund has agreed to temporarily allow an increase in its income limit for propane households from 60% of State Median Income (SMI) to 80% of SMI, and will allow propane households to potentially receive an increased maximum benefit of $600 and has temporarily adjusted its policy to allow propane households the ability to potentially receive two benefit payments in a year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 2:30 PM
Last Updated on Tuesday, February 04, 2014 4:00 PM

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