Plans in place to avoid another propane shortage

Cold winter, corn drying increased propane use by 14 percent last year
Plans in place to avoid another propane shortage

With the return of the polar vortex and temperatures plunging across much of the state officials with the Wisconsin Propane Gas Association said they are better prepared to avoid the kind of shortages that plagued the region last winter.

“There was no playbook for what happened last year,” said Brandon Scholz, managing director of the WPGA. “Propane marketers and their customers had never experienced the things that came together that caused this crisis, but from that we learned a lot of things.”

The propane shortage last year was a result of a long, bitter cold winter that increased residential use. It was also a result of increased propane use by agriculture to dry corn after harvest. Between the two, propane use increased in the state by 14 percent.

The problem was made worse when residential customers waited until their supplies were very low to call for a refill. The high demand for propane and limited supply drove prices up dramatically and made it hard for some customers to afford it.

Based on the experience of last winter, the industry changed the approach it takes.

“They worked with their customers to fill their tanks early, called summer fills so rather than waiting until October or November when your tank is about 10 percent, you went into the first part of the heating season with a full tank,” Scholz said.

Scholz said propane companies worked during the summer to communicate with customers to make sure they understand their contracts and what it means to have auto fill or prepay.

While the weather is the wild card in any winter, Scholz believes the propane industry is better prepared to deal with any issues that arise.

“We learned a lot from last time, and things were done this past summer to prepare,” Scholz said. “I think we are much better prepared, because one of the things in our playbook this year that we didn’t have last year was we didn’t have that coordination with the state and with county emergency government.”

While supplies are good heading into the winter months, customers are still being urged to conserve when possible and contact propane suppliers earlier — when tanks are down to 20 or 30 percent. They are also being asked to clear snow and make propane tanks accessible to propane delivery trucks.