U.P. propane shortage to get worse

MARQUETTE – Michigan Public Service Commission officials announced Friday a propane shortage in Michigan – and especially the Upper Peninsula – is expected to get worse in the coming week.

Last month, Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency for propane. Earlier this month, Snyder issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency for propane and heating oil through Jan. 31. Public Service Commission officials said Friday inventories are 43 percent below what they were at this same time last winter.

To complicate matters, a facility in Wisconsin that supplies fuel will be closed for maintenance.

“An already tight supply of propane will get even tighter beginning next week and lasting through at least the end of the month,” Michigan Public Service Commission Chairman John Quackenbush said in a press release. “That means propane customers in the Upper Peninsula should use their propane supplies wisely in the coming weeks by reducing usage and avoiding energy waste.”

Public Service Commission officials said the shortage affects users across the state, but the problem is more pronounced in the U.P. About 9 percent of Michigan households primarily heat their homes with propane.

Across the country, 24 states have declared propane emergencies.

Public Service Commission officials said factors contributing to the propane shortage included a late, wet harvest season, (farmers use propane for drying corn), extreme cold temperatures, heavy snowfall, pipeline disruptions and shutdowns, a rail closure in Canada and difficult driving conditions.

In Michigan, 77 percent of households use natural gas as their primary heating method, roughly 8 percent use electricity to heat their homes, 2 percent use heating oil and 4 percent use other fuels.

Snyder’s executive orders exempt motor carriers and drivers transporting propane and heating oil within Michigan from hours-of-service regulations and requirements.

In its forecast for the winter issued in October, the Public Service Commission said assuming normal temperatures for the 2013-2014 heating season, propane use was expected to increase by 5.7 percent, marking a return to historical demand levels.

Following two mild winters, colder than normal temperatures at the end of last winter caused propane to rebound closer to historical demand, the appraisal said.

“This upcoming season would be the second consecutive year of increased demand, although propane demand has been on a long-term downward trajectory,” the report said.

For tips on how to reduce energy usage, visit the Michigan Public Service Commission’s “BeWinterWise” website at: Michigan.gov/bewinterwise.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net