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Propane shortages felt locally

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By MEG BLANEY, Spencer to The Magnet

A propane shortage is causing budget woes across the country for residents of cold-weather states. But luckily, Kentucky has not been as affected as other regions, and propane users in Spencer County aren’t seeing nearly as much of a spike as other areas of the country.
A series of factors has contributed to the shortage including an abundant and wet crop season, which required additional amounts of propane for drying purposes, issues with the infrastructure, and, of course, the recent severely low temperatures, which have caused most homeowners and business owners to use more propane than usual.
In Kentucky, 8-10 percent of homes use propane for heating, according to Jay McCants, executive director of the Kentucky Propane Gas Association. That translates to approximately 120,000-130,000 homes, which might be running low and facing a rationing of sorts from their providers.
In other parts of Kentucky some propane companies have had to ration the amount each customer can receive at one time. But, like squirrels storing nuts for the winter, the two main Spencer County propane suppliers bought their propane long before the temperatures ever dropped enough to need it.
McCants praised Greenwell Brothers Propane and Bennett’s Gas for being “in good shape.”
“Both are good solid companies and had the forethought to pre-buy their propane (before this cold spell),” he said. “If they hadn’t done that, the companies would be really hurting and would have to pass that along to the consumers.”
Greenwell Brothers Propane has been supplying propane to Spencer County since the late 1940s. Owner and manager Jennifer G. Baxter (formerly Greenwell) said while they are not filling tanks to capacity until the shortage passes, they are not actively restricting customers like some propane companies are in other parts of the state. She encourages people to conserve by closing off rooms and turning thermostats down.
“It’s an excellent source of heat but it takes a whole lot of more propane to heat in this weather,” she said. “Furnaces have to work a lot harder.”
Although pre-buying the propane does help keep the prices low for their customers, the propane shortage has caused a spike in pricing here and around the country. Greenwell’s price was generally below $3 per gallon before the propane shortage, and now the price has moved between $3 to $4 per gallon, Baxter said.
But when there are some areas paying closer to $5 per gallon, “this isn’t nearly that bad,” she said.
The price of wholesale propane in other states has risen to more than $4 per gallon, according to the propane association. But even here, propane companies are closely monitoring the situation and have been working overtime to deliver gas to residents who are going through it more quickly because of the cold weather. McCants urged propane consumers to check their tanks even if they are on an automatic refill plan because the propane is being used so much more rapidly in these severe cold temperatures.
“Customers should call their companies and let them know if they have less than 40 percent in their tank,” he said. “If you call with 2 percent left, you’re pretty much definitely going to run out.”
Baxter described it as “the perfect storm” of factors that caused the nationwide shortage.
“We’re doing what a lot of companies are doing which is not filling up the tanks all the way full until we know what the situation is,” she said. “But hopefully it will warm up and then supply pressures will ease.”
Residents who need help with their heating costs can call the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program at (800) 456-3452 to see if they qualify for heating assistance.