Propane customers urged to prepare for heating needs

ESCANABA – The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) is asking propane customers to prepare their heating needs early for the upcoming winter so last year’s supply issues don’t repeat themselves.

Last winter, propane supplies were short due to farmer’s high demand for drying an ample but wet corn crop and due to record-low temperatures that held on for much of the winter, explained John Quackenbush, MPSC chairman, who was in Escanaba last week.

Other factors affecting the high demand and low supply of propane included pipeline breakdowns, he said. Transportation restrictions also occurred and were later relaxed to allow propane truckers more time on the road.

Quackenbush said the MPSC will be monitoring prices and supply challenges of propane this year to avoid any shortages like last season.

“We’ll be focusing on transportation and communications of providers and retailers,” he told local media representatives during a press conference held at the Salvation Army in Escanaba on Friday.

Because propane is a competitive market, the MPSC does not set rates on propane like it does for electricity, explained Quackenbush.

The commission also plans to advertise on radio and television to spread the message to propane customers to assist in the process.

“Customers can do their part by being prepared,” said Quackenbush, recommending homeowners fill their propane tanks early and lock into prices and budget plans with their energy providers.

Statewide, 9 percent of homes are primarily heated with propane; in the Upper Peninsula, that number is much higher, he said.

The MPSC will once again be providing funding for low-income heating assistance which will be distributed through state organizations through the Michigan Department of Human Services.

The commission is currently designating agencies to distribute these energy funds which will be available for propane, firewood and natural gas on Oct. 1, Quackenbush noted.

At that time, residents in need of heating assistance with deliverable fuels can call 211 or visit Michigan.gov/heatingassistance for help.

Fifty million dollars will be generated through the Michigan Low Income Energy Assistance Fund which collects 97 cents a month from electric customers whose companies participate in the program.

This is the second year the funding factor has been included in customer bills from September 2014 through August 2015, said Quackenbush. The current year’s rate is 99 cents per customer per month.

“The funding factor is based on the number of meters provided by utilities that intend to participate in the program,” explained Quackenbush. “Utilities that do not participate in the program are prohibited from shutting off service to any residential customer from Nov. 1 to April 15 for nonpayment of a delinquent account.”

State law requires the commission to calculate a funding factor that does not exceed $50 million.

Federal dollars will also provide an additional $40 million for low-income heating assistance this year, making a total of $90 million available statewide for energy funds, said Quackenbush.

The MPSC has several tips available for propane consumers on its website at Michigan.gov/propane.

The suggestions cover pricing agreements, delivery arrangements, fees and other charges, the pros and cons of renting or owning a propane tank, and helpful questions to ask before signing a contract.

The website also lists the statewide average resident price of propane during the heating season.

The MPSC is an agency with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net