Vermont propane prices spike

Midwest farmers used four times as much propane to dry their crops last fall than the year before, and Vermont fuel dealers and customers are feeling the heat.

A wet fall has led to a shortage in supply that has driven residential prices to record highs across the country this year. Dealers have to travel further to find enough propane to serve their customers, Vermont dealers say.

The average price for residential propane in Vermont has increased from $3.75 per gallon in December to $4.22 per gallon on Feb. 3, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“It hasn’t been a whole lot fun out there,” said Peter Bourne, owner of the heating fuel dealer Bourne’s Energy, which serves the northern half of the state.

He said his company will not leave customers cold, but traveling long distances in search of fuel has driven up propane prices this winter.

“Generally speaking, we’ve been able to find it,” he said. But this year his company has been driving to the southern tip of New England to find propane. “You’ve got to have the product, so you have to pay the price.”

Vermont Fuel Dealers Association Executive Director Matt Cota. VTD/Josh Larkin

Vermont Fuel Dealers Association Executive Director Matt Cota. VTDigger photo

While this year’s cold winter has depleted supplies, Matt Cota, executive of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, said dealers have been on alert since the early signs of a shortage this summer.

During the past harvesting season, corn and other grain farmers used large amounts of propane to dry their crops. In 2012, farmers used about 65 million gallons of propane, but a wet fall in 2013 caused farmers to use about 300 million gallons, according to the National Propane Gas Association.

No Vermont dealers have turned down customers’ requests for heating fuel, said Cota, who represents more than 100 dealers statewide.

Cota said the good news is that the coldest days of winter are behind us. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of we are getting there,” he said.

He said there are several other compounding issues that create a supply shortage. The Cochin Pipeline System, which spans the Upper Midwest, was closed during December for maintenance. Also, he said, rail cars that previously carried propane are being refitted to carry crude oil, reducing transportation capacity.

Cota said the good news is that the situation could have become worse. Canadian National Railway Co. and the union representing some of those workers, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, reached a deal with the government to avert a strike that could have come as soon as this weekend.

“That would have had a tremendous impact on our transportation infrastructure,” Cota said.

Bourne advised customers to buy ahead, a process in which customers settle on a fixed price in advance of the heating season. While customers might not always save money, he said at least there is certainty in the price for fuel.

Correction: Rail cars that carry propane, are being repurposed for crude oil.

John Herrick

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20 Comments on "Vermont propane prices spike"

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Jim Barrett
2 years 5 months ago

All of this trouble and yourt legislature just made it illegal to frack for gas in this state. Prices will always be high for everythin g because the leaders in this state treat everything as harmful to something. They lovbe to outlaw something in the name of saving us from ourselves. Enjoy your prices and enjoy your support of the left wing running this state. Oh yes, where is the illustrous leader Mr Shumlin? Oh, he is in Las Vegas enjoying himself and having a good time on your buck!!

Matt Fisken
2 years 5 months ago

Jim, you’re joking, right? Hopefully you know Vermont has no fossil fuel reserves it can possibly frack. All we can do is reduce our dependence on these imported fuels by using less (and no, I don’t think wind turbines and solar panels can/should replace imported fossil fuels).

John Greenberg
2 years 5 months ago

“and no, I don’t think wind turbines and solar panels can/should replace imported fossil fuels”

So what should replace them, Matt?

Matt Fisken
2 years 5 months ago
I think it’s a fool’s errand to try *replacing* these fuels we’ve been using so wastefully with anything. We should be replacing our lifestyles and expectations based on the understanding that (conventional) peak oil has already happened, fracking will not save us, and we may soon be stuck with what Vermont has always had: solar gain most of the year, wood year round, and consistent, small-scale hydro in proportion to the health of our forests. It’s important for me to say, I still think solar panels and wind turbines have their place, but at a scale which provides *necessary* utility… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 5 months ago
Matt: I don’t understand your comments. If we are truly “stuck with what Vermont has always had: solar gain most of the year, wood year round, and consistent, small-scale hydro in proportion to the health of our forests,” then it would appear that you’re suggesting that we are also “stuck” with 19th Century Vermont lifestyles. But your last paragraph appears to suggest otherwise. Which is it? In your last paragraph, you argue against connecting to “the grid, which, as it’s designed and used, will always be a nuclear and fossil fuel vacuum.” I don’t understand the word “vacuum” here at… Read more »
Matt Fisken
2 years 5 months ago

John,

What % of the electricity on the grid do you think is used to heat thing up or cool things down?

Now, what % of electricity generated by people off the grid is used to heat and cool things?

re: “vacuum” think vacuum cleaner. Maybe “black hole” would have been a better term to use.

John Greenberg
2 years 5 months ago
Matt: “What % of the electricity on the grid do you think is used to heat thing up or cool things down?” I can’t give you a New England specific answer, but nationally, EIA estimates that 19% is used for space cooling (and I assume heating) and that an addition 9% is used for water heating. http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=96&t=3 I have no idea what percentage off-grid folks use for these purposes. And I still have no idea what you’re trying to say here. In particular, I don’t understand how you think we should be living (19th century resources = 19th century lifestyle??),… Read more »
Glenn Thompson
2 years 5 months ago
John, I think every Vermonter who has seen their heating costs go through the roof during this winter’s cold weather would love to hear how they can replace heating their homes currently heated by Propane, Fuel Oil, Kerosene, with ‘Wind and Solar? Keep in mind, the capacity factor of wind is only 25-30% and solar in Vermont is much less than that. FYI, I was in Vermont for the holidays and the total amount of sunshine only added up to a few hours over a 3 week period. If one thinks they can heat their homes in Vt with Solar… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 5 months ago
Glenn Thompson: I never suggested that Vermonters “can replace heating their homes currently heated by Propane, Fuel Oil, Kerosene, with ‘Wind and Solar.” Nor to my knowledge has anyone else. I asked Matt Fisken a simple question, directly quoting his own statement right above mine. Since you’re asking, however, there ARE good answers to your question about weaning Vermonters from using fossil fuels for heat. The first one is weatherization and proper insulation. A properly insulated building with sealed drafts takes far less energy to heat than most of the buildings in Vermont (and elsewhere). If all Vermont buildings were… Read more »
Matt Fisken
2 years 5 months ago
John, Like Glenn, I read your “simple question” to be support of the proliferation of grid-tied “renewables” which the “Electrify Vermont” crowd believes will eliminate nearly all fossil fuel use in Vermont by 2050. It is a fact that you, more than anyone in this forum, has espoused the ability of industrial wind turbines to replace GHG emitting fossil fuel power generation at a “nearly 1:1 ratio.” Because a great deal of the electricity transmitted by VELCO is turned into either heat or is used for cooling, I don’t think it’s worth differentiating between “thermal efficiency” and “electrical efficiency” the… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 5 months ago
Matt, You make 4 different assertions here. I’ll respond to each in turn: 1) “Like Glenn, I read your “simple question” to be support of the proliferation of grid-tied “renewables” which the “Electrify Vermont” crowd believes will eliminate nearly all fossil fuel use in Vermont by 2050.” In other words, you supplied your own meaning, rather than reading what I actually wrote. I can’t control what you choose to bring to my words or how you opt to interpret them. I can control exactly what I write, and I try to do so with considerable care. 2) “It is a… Read more »
Bob Sterling
2 years 5 months ago

The state goverment doesn’t like any industry unless they have their fingers in the pie. If they don’t control it and can’t tax it, they outlaw it.

timothy price
2 years 5 months ago

Winterization, bundling up, being more physically active, are all way better ideas than busting up the rock and messing with the ground water. We will never allow fracking so get over it.

2 years 5 months ago

You could be burning wood pellets and cut the price of your heating by 60% from propane. The dollars stay here in New England. The up front cost is higher but the payback is real. You chose. It couldn’t be easier.

Janice Prindle
2 years 5 months ago
This reads almost word for word like the WCAX “report” with no comments beyond an industry spokesman. Yesterday Digger ran a commentary, actually a well-researched piece, that attributed the problem only partly to the farmers, and the rest to the lack of a cap on exports, a problem that is likely to affect the price of other fuels as well. The lack of a cap gives the fuel industry an opportunity to direct this vital commodity to foreign markets if the prices are higher there, driving up the price back home. This is our energy policy being written by the… Read more »
Lee Stirling
2 years 5 months ago

It seems like the author of this piece, those who published it, and those commenting on it here today failed to read or remember the commentary in VTDigger on 2/5/14 by Mike Ryan entitled: Propane is now for export and profit, not for Vermonters. Please read it, then re-read John Herrick’s article above.

http://vtdigger.wpengine.com/2014/02/05/mike-ryan-propane-now-export-profit-vermonters/

Daniel Emery
2 years 5 months ago
I strongly suggest that Matt Cota, Peter Bourne, other propane dealers and the public read (or reread and address) the facts article on Vt Digger Feb.5th. As it was well written and researched Mike Ryan. Today’s article by John Herrick (and the quotes by Cota and Bourne) seems to ignore, among other causes, the large fact that US propane exports exploded 76 per cent in November 2013 from November 2012, just prior to our propane price explosion. Thank you Mike Ryan for your indepth fact finding. Hopefully the VT fuel dealers and Mr. Cota will get an nopportunity to be… Read more »
walter moses
2 years 5 months ago

Mike Ryan’s excellent post should be addressed by Matt Cota. I read Mr. Ryans excellent post and got out my file and chainsaw.

Mike Ryan
2 years 5 months ago

I don’t understand why my posting of yesterday is still not approved with no word from any moderators

Mike Ryan
2 years 5 months ago
I will try it again. I don’t know why our TV Channels are not letting you have the facts. Maybe they have done it and I missed it. Anyway, I am happy to say that like the VT Digger, the Burlington Free Press is keen to know the facts and get them out there. This first link is to an interview that I gave to the Free Press on Tuesday this week at their request. I think it answers a lot of your questions about the causes of the problem and it includes the action that the VT Washington delegation… Read more »
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