Tim Ryan, [email protected]
Extreme cold coupled with a propane shortage spurred a flood of calls for assistance this week in Shawano County.
Calls for help normally increase with the cold weather, but the numbers are higher than usual, said Sarah Bartz, economic support supervisor for Shawano County’s Department of Social Services.
“We’re seeing an increase in the increase,” she said.
The department has been working with area propane vendors, many of which, Bartz said, have a minimum delivery of 100 gallons and a maximum of 200.
Given the persistent cold weather, “that may not last very long,” she added.
Gov. Scott Walker on Saturday declared a state of emergency due to the propane shortage throughout the Midwest. On Monday, he announced the state will help propane dealers secure loans to purchase gas and will release more money to help low-income propane users.
Bartz said those in need of assistance should apply as soon as it looks like they’ll be in need.
“We need to know they’re low on fuel,” Bartz said.
Bartz also asked for people to be patient.
“We’re trying to deal with crises first,” she said. “We want to ensure they’re safe.”
The Mohican LP Gas Co. in Bowler reports 10 to 15 emergency calls a day have been coming in; situations where customer propane tanks have dropped below 10 percent of capacity.
In some cases, matters were even worse than that.
“Throughout the area we’ve had people who have run out,” Office Specialist Candy Miller said. “We’ve been able to get fuel to them quickly enough.”
The company’s supply of propane is in good shape, Miller said.
“We were able to pre-buy a lot of our propane,” she said. “We’ve never run out, but it was slow in coming for a while. We’re back on track now.”
Wolf River Propane of New London reports its supplies are a little more tenuous.
“It’s kind of up in the air,” owner Jeff Duch said. “We have days when we can get what we’re supposed to and other days when the terminal runs out.”
That has forced the company to calculate on a daily basis what it can provide to its customers.
The company has 3,000 residential and business customers, about 30 percent of which are in the Shawano County area.
Wolf River Propane has been making deliveries of 250 gallons for a 500-gallon tank, and 500 gallons for larger tanks with a 1,000-gallon or more capacity.
The price has been fluctuating with the market and was at $4.88 per gallon on Tuesday. Three weeks ago it was in the $1.79 per gallon range, Duch said, adding that the price includes a fixed margin for the company’s cost of doing business.
The price has apparently led some customers to re-think their needs and either conserve more or order less, according to Duch.
“People are more conscious of their pocketbooks,” he said.
Duch said February will be a pivotal month.
“A lot of (propane) storage is starting to run dry,” he said. “Then we’ll be relying on the refineries.”
In the meantime, Duch said he appreciates his customers’ patience.
“There’s nothing else we can do but try to help everybody else through this,” he said.
Walker said the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority would set aside $8 million to guarantee loans that propane dealers take out to purchase gas. Walker also announced the state would release another $8.5 million to help low-income consumers pay for propane.
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