Propane Customers Watch and Worry About Rapidly Rising Prices

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

Francis Mysak filled his propane tank at $2.60 a gallon earlier this month. The current price is nearly double that. (KCRG-THE GAZETTE)

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By Dave Franzman

LINN COUNTY, Iowa - Galloping liquid propane (LP) prices are beginning to concern rural heating customers who don’t have any idea when it will all end.

On Monday, an Iowa Agriculture Department fuel price survey found a statewide increase from $4.18 per gallon to $4.71 per gallon of propane delivered to tanks. That’s an increase of $.53 per gallon since the last survey on January 23rd. And those who depend on LP for their winter heating fuel are wondering both how high it will go and what they can do about it.

Francis Mysak, a retired construction worker living near Springville, though it was bad when he topped off his propose tank earlier this month at about $2.65 a gallon. He says his supplier said the current retail price is about $5.00 a gallon. So the retiree who lives on a fixed income has dialed back the heat inside his home, cut out some entertainment expenses and plans to wait a lot longer than normal before he calls for a refill. That’s because a refill that was just over $500 a few weeks ago might cost him $1,000 today.

"I stay home and don't do much except turn the thermostat down, that's about it," Mysak said.

Unlike some customers, Mysak said he didn’t buy a propane contract last spring when he could have locked in a price of between $1.30 and $1.40 a gallon. He’s kicking himself about that now but says he only switched from heating oil to propane a couple of years ago and just didn’t think ahead. Those who buy propane contracts have to pay for a year’s worth of fuel up front.

Mysak’s friend Tom Meade, who also lives north of Springville, is in a better position because he does have a supply contract.

"I'm very happy about that it was a good more on my part," Meade said.

But he has potential problems too.

Meade contracted ahead for 1,400 gallons of propane last spring and will still get deliveries at the much lower price even now with retail prices two to three times higher. But because his supplier has had difficulty and extra expense in obtaining wholesale propane, Meade won’t necessarily get all he wants when he wants. His supplier told him customers on contracts are currently limited to just 100 to 150 gallons at a time to stretch supplies for everyone. And although he gets the lower contract prices from last spring, he’ll have to pay an extra $.30 to $.40 a gallon in delivery fees because of the expense to the supplier to go farther to get the propane. Those surcharges are part of standard propane contracts.

Both propane customers say a lot of people who live in cities, and get heating fuel from natural gas, don’t go through the occasional roller coaster of rapidly rising propane prices. Both are doing what they can to conserve and just hoping the supply situation improves and prices return to normal.

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