Propane Users are Out of Fuel and Money – and Ready for Spring

Michigan has more propane users than any other state. An unusually harsh winter and prices that spiked around $5 means many can’t pay their bills.

Some Michigan residents spent $5 a gallon for propane to heat their homes during a long, bitterly cold winter. (Patch file photo)
Some Michigan residents spent $5 a gallon for propane to heat their homes during a long, bitterly cold winter. (Patch file photo)

The winter can’t end soon enough for about 8,000 Michiganders hit by a cruel trifecta of national propane shortages, a bitterly cold winter and record high prices, 

Michigan has the most propane-heated residences of any Midwest state, with 8 percent to 10 percent of residents using the fuel that some residents are reporting costs $1,000 for a three-week supply, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Residential customers paid $3.36 a gallon in February, down from the average weekly high of $3.69, but far above the $2 per gallon customers paid in October.  In some places where the fuel has been especially scarce, the price per gallon skyrocketed to $5 a gallon, prompting price-gouging complaints.

Although no charges have been filed against suppliers, “We will not tolerate any unscrupulous behavior that violates Michigan law,” Attorney General Bill Schuette said. 

The shortage has been described by some gas suppliers as the worst they’ve ever seen. Michigan was one of 30 states relaxing rules to allow truckers to drive longer hours and pick up and deliver fuel to often remote and rural efforts where most of Michigan’s propane users live.

To help residents cope, the state’s Public Service Commission has set aside $14 million, double the amount in previous years, to help low-income residents heat their homes, whether with propane or other fuels, this winter.

But agencies designed to help residents navigate through the myriad problems resulting when they can’t pay the high costs of utilities aren’t necessarily set up to address the problems propane users are encountering.

Beth Kimmel of Dixboro, who’s behind on her bills after paying between $4 and $4.50 a gallon to heat her home, said she called the 211 hotline and was referred to relief agencies. 

But they wanted her to provide a shut-off notice before giving assistance. When propane runs out, there is no shutoff notice from the supplier, she said. The tank just remains empty.


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