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Propane crisis easing some
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Winter hardships seemed to ease on many fronts this week—starting with temperatures, which hit a high Tuesday of 40 degrees in Gays Mills. The warmer weather was a welcome relief from one of the colder winters in recent memory.

There was some good news for those who heat their homes with propane as well. Supplies seemed to stabilize and there was even a small increase in reserves reported. Prices, which had soared past $5 per gallon, headed back down as well.

The best news of all may have come from Crawford County Emergency Government Director Roger Martin, who indicated that to the best of his knowledge no one in the county was forced to go without heat because of the recent propane shortage. However, he was quick to add that many were negatively impacted by the higher prices.

Martin allowed some residents may have switched to alternative heat sources, including wood, but those who needed propane got it.

Some of those who stayed warm with expensive propane had Crawford County Human Services to thank for providing additional heating assistance. The county was targeted for extra assistance by the state because over 20 percent of the residences use propane as a heat source, according to Roby Fuller, a heating assistance specialist with the human services department. The county received almost $37,000 in additional funding for crisis fuel benefits.

The county agency was working to use the money as wisely as possible to serve as many people as possible, as fairly as possible, Fuller explained. The county asks clients to make a contribution toward the propane purchase based on their ability to pay. To qualify for heating assistance clients must have incomes below 60 percent more than the established federal poverty levels. In the recent crisis, the state raised that level to 80 percent above the poverty level and those that qualify for this assistance are getting it from a special state run fund called Keeping Wisconsin Warm.

Because of the extremely cold weather, as well as scarce and expensive propane, the county was even willing to help clients pay late fees or same day delivery fees that usually aren’t paid. While there was an increased caseload, exact figures would have to wait, as the busy agency was more interested in processing the applications than counting them.

Last year, 869 residences received heating assistance. Fuller was quite sure that there would be more this year given the extremely cold weather and higher propane prices.

How high did the prices get? Martin said he had been told of a purchase over $7 per gallon.

However, last week the prices began the week by coming down from $4.69 per gallon in the previous week to $3.49 per gallon. By Friday, the price was $3.19 per gallon. That’s still a long way from the price offered for contracts in the summer of $1.45 per gallon.

Fuller referred to the situation as “crazy prices.”

“Nobody could’ve planned for this,” Fuller said. “It was a perfect storm.”

New Horizons General Manager David Neal confirmed there was good news on prices and supply with prices going down and supply shortages easing a bit. He also noted government had done some good with the Federal Emergency Response Commission (FERC) ordering storage caverns in Conway, Kansas be refilled as soon as possible. More propane is being made in the refineries and Enterprise, the pipeline owner, is making it a priority to move propane to Conway.

The latest government report showed the supply in Conway increased last week, which is pretty much unheard of at this time of year, according to Neal.

One factor leading to a larger supply is customers who have cut back on usage because of the price and the shortages.

Neal indicated there were three factors easing the propane shortage. First, there was some definite progress in increasing the supplies on hand. Second, customers were cutting usage and conserving the amount used. Finally, suppliers were holding off on deliveries so not as much was being stored in customers’ tanks.

Neal also saw the warming weather as a plus.

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” the New Horizons General Manager said. By Friday, New Horizons price for propane was $3 per gallon. Neal cautioned that although prices should go down from there it might take awhile before they drop significantly.