MARINETTE - It's been just over a week since news of a propane shortage began to spread like wildfire. Hardest hit were residents living in rural areas where propane is one of the top sources of home heating fuel. One dealer in Marinette County even ran out, leaving customers wondering how they would keep their homes warm through bitter cold temperatures.
The Marinette County Emergency Management office has been monitoring the situation, staying in contact with dealers and reaching out to residents in need. Emergency Management Director Eric Burmeister said the picture for the immediate future doesn't look very bright as below-normal temperatures are expect for nearly the next two weeks.
"That's going to continue to create a demand on the propane heating season," he said. "We're trying to identify people who are experiencing the crisis."
A survey form is located on the front page of the Marinette County website under the tab labeled "latest news." In addition to basic questions such as name, address and phone number, the survey asks a series of yes and no questions. Do you currently heat or home/business with propane? Is propane your only source of heat? Is this a home or business?
The survey goes on to ask information about the company supplying propane. Are you confident that the LP in your tank will sustain you until it can be refilled? Have you been in contact with your propane provider? Will your propane provider be able to re-supply you sufficiently to remain in your home/business? What arrangements do you have with a propane vendor?
The survey concludes with personal questions such as, do you have a plan if you need to leave your home/business? Do you know how to prepare your home/business for cold weather in the event you have to leave? Are you receiving Energy Assistance or Keep Wisconsin Warm Funds?
People with computer access can complete the survey online others can call a special propane survey phone line at (715) 732-7315.
"It's going to help us identify exactly how many customers we have and identify the vendors that we need to be checking on," said Burmeister, who added it will also help in determining if people are aware of the energy assistance available. So far more than 500 calls have come in inquiring about assistance.
"The biggest concern we've heard since Monday has been from those who fall outside the percentages of the state guidelines," he said. "The Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund is 80 percent of state and median income. The Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance program is 60 percent of the state median income. It's kind of hard for those people who fall outside that range who are worried about the economic impact as the price of propane has gone up. It's not in their budget."
Propane that had been selling for about $1.90 a gallon at the beginning of the season has more than doubled in price. Burmeister said on Thursday the cheapest available propane in the county was $3.99 a gallon and that was cash on delivery. The highest price was $5.59 a gallon.
"One company said that any new customer's payment is in advance," explained Burmeister. "A new customer has to pay in advance of getting the propane and the maximum amount of propane that customer can get is 200 gallons, with a minimum delivery of 100 gallons."
Burmeister said most companies will deliver a minimum of 100 to 150 gallons with cash up front or a valid credit card, however the time between order and delivery could be up to 8 days. Because of the shortage, some vendors are not taking on new customers at this time.
"Judging by some of the calls on our hotline, the frustration is still there," said Burmeister. "It might be stabilizing itself, we'll see what's going to happen. Early next week they're talking about another cold front coming through, we'll see what happens at that point."
n Marinette Co. propane survey
n www.marinettecounty.com