Low propane

MARQUETTE – Though additional propane has begun to be produced in Rapid River, state officials are continuing to monitor a statewide propane shortage, which has helped drive up costs during a particularly tough winter cold snap.

Michigan Public Service Commission officials recently announced a propane shortage in Michigan -and especially the Upper Peninsula – was expected to worsen with the closure of a Wisconsin fuel supply facility closing for maintenance.

At least 24 states, including Michigan, have declared states of emergency for propane.

On Tuesday, Judy Palnau, spokeswoman for the commission, said pumps have been installed at the Wisconsin facility and product is once again flowing to Rapid River, where they make propane.

“The Rapid River, Mich., facility did start getting product over the weekend and did make propane available yesterday, a full day ahead of expectations,” Palnau said. “However, propane supplies continue to be tight.”

In December, Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in Michigan for propane and then earlier this month, issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency for propane and heating oil through Jan. 31.

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.

In a news release Tuesday, several state lawmakers said they are aware of the propane shortage and are closely monitoring the situation. The legislators included state representatives John Kivela, D-Marquette, Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan and Frank Foster, R-Petoskey, and senators Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba and Howard Walker, R-Traverse City.

The lawmakers said they will contact the state attorney general to ask that his office monitor the situation to protect consumers from any potential price gouging. The legislators said they are working with Snyder and the commission to make sure everything possible is being done to help get supplies into the region. Other states were also being contacted to make sure any impediments to propane transportation are removed, the release stated.

“In the meantime, legislators are asking U.P. residents to conserve as much fuel as possible, as they are unsure of how long the propane shortage will last,” the release said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that his administration ensure adequate emergency contingency funds are available for those struggling to pay higher home heating bills.

Benishek said the shortage has pushed propane prices higher than $6 per gallon.

“This shortage and recent spike in propane prices are making it difficult for many who are struggling in this tough economy,” Benishek said. “The fiercely cold winter we have been having has only made matters worse, especially for the neediest families.”

Benishek told Obama he hoped the president “will work to ensure adequate Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program emergency contingency funds are available to all areas in need during this time.”

Through LIHEAP, the federal government makes annual grants to states, tribes and territories to operate home energy assistance programs for low-income households. Benishek’s office said more than 600,000 households are served in Michigan by that program.

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.

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.