Propane rates hitting wallets

by Sarah Fay Campbell

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Betty Loftin remembers when she could fill up her propane tank for about $100. Now, it’s more like $400. Loftin says she is grateful for her wood-burning stove.

An extraordinarily cold winter following a wet fall has led to high prices for propane fuel.

Prices have fluctuated a lot in the past few weeks. Propane was more than $4 per gallon last week, but prices appear to have settled down this week.

In Coweta on Thursday, local propane providers were offering propane for between $3.75 and $3.989 per gallon, with a 100-gallon minimum purchase.

Except for Blossman Gas, which was selling propane for $2.99 if delivered on the regular route next week. A representative for the gas company said Blossman was able to offer low prices because “we pre-bought our gas supply for the winter back in the summer.”

At Gas Incorporated, customers are being quoted prices on a day-to-day basis because prices are fluctuating so much. “We go up, we go down,” said an employee.

Betty Loftin remembers when she could fill up the propane tank at her south Coweta home for a little over $100. Now it’s more like $400.

She’s grateful that, in addition to their gas furnace, she and her husband, Dan, have a wood-burning stove, which does a great job of heating their home. “We couldn’t afford to heat this house with total propane. It would cost a fortune,” Loftin said.

When they built their home in the 1980s, it was cheaper to use propane appliances than to go with total electric, so that’s what they did.

Derenda Rowe of One Roof Ecumenical Alliance Outreach, a Newnan-based charity that can sometimes help with home heating costs, said that some people are really struggling to afford propane.

“Because it was so cold, they used more than they normally would,” she said. Rowe said that prices she paid for clients were actually even more expensive in November, when she paid $471.87 for 100 gallons. On Thursday, she got 100 gallons from another vendor for $330. “I would say, today, we got a bargain.”

“I think people are just struggling in general,” said Rowe.

On Jan. 27, the day before snowfall crippled a large swath of Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal and Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black issued an executive order regarding propane price gouging.

“Our families, farmers and small businesses are worried about getting the heat they need during times of frigid weather,” Deal said while signing the order.

“They shouldn’t have to worry about price gouging, and we aim to prevent that.” “Due to the much colder than normal weather this winter, we have seen a higher demand for propane gas resulting in shortages and escalating prices in Georgia and across the nation,” said Black. “Livestock and poultry farmers, along with food processors, depend on propane to continue business. We are doing everything possible to work with the propane suppliers and agribusinesses to meet the challenges we are currently facing.”

The executive order will remain in place through the end of February.

Previously, Deal, as well as officials in many other states, had lifted “hours of service” restrictions on propane truck drivers to help increase the available supply of the product.

Propane, also known as “liquified petroleum” (LP), is typically used for heating, as well as for running gas appliances such as stoves and water heaters, in areas that are not served by natural gas.

Propane can be refined from petroleum, and is also a byproduct of natural gas production.

This year’s propane problems actually began with a late harvest in the Midwest, according to Jenni McKeen, executive director of the Georgia Propane Gas Association.

“They had a late harvest, and it was a big harvest,” McKeen said. Normally, there’s a bit of time between the harvest, getting crops dried, and the winter, she said. But this time, there wasn’t. Farmers use a large amount of propane to dry their crops.

There was no time for supplies to rebound between the big crop drying and cold weather. And “they have been running ever since, because the winter has been relentless,” said McKeen.

“Because it has been so cold, people have been using a lot of propane, and so the companies have had to make more trips.”

In a typical year, propane companies in this part of the state get their propane from a terminal in Milner. But, this winter, companies are coming into Georgia from all over, and Georgia suppliers are having to travel far and wide as well.

People are “going everywhere they can,” McKeen said. “Trucks are coming out of the northeast… our guys are going anywhere they can.” Prices have gone up 86 percent in the last 30 days, McKeen said on Thursday. Things have gone down over the past week.

“But everything hinges on what the weather does,” McKeen said. “And if it stays cold, they’re probably going to stay elevated.”



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