Gov. Snyder pledges to work hard for propane customers

MARQUETTE – Gov. Rick Snyder reiterated Friday his administration is working diligently to help Michigan’s residents struggling with a regional propane shortage – felt most dramatically in the Upper Peninsula.

“This is an important issue, we want to be proactive,” Snyder said in a telephone interview with The Mining Journal. “We’re monitoring it closely on a daily basis.”

Snyder said his administration began working on the issue in December and is continuing efforts with the propane industry and other states to try to improve supplies coming to Michigan.

Michigan Public Service Commission officials said regional inventories are 46 percent below what they were last winter at this time. Roughly 321,000 – about 9 percent – of the state’s households heat their homes with propane, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As of Jan. 17, U.S. propane inventories were below 5-year average levels. Michigan uses more propane than any other state.

Snyder extended a propane emergency declaration, which expired Friday, until Feb. 11. He signed similar orders in each of the past two months.

More than 30 states have declared propane emergencies. Snyder’s order extends an exemption within the state for motor carriers and drivers transporting propane and heating oil from hours-of-service regulations and requirements.

State officials are requesting extension of an emergency declaration for Midwest states by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration past Feb. 11 to allow continuation of the state’s waivers for transporting propane.

Officials are also asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to coordinate weight restriction exemptions between states to ensure interstate propane transport is not unnecessarily impeded.

Steve Arwood, director of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs for the state, said the average propane cost in Michigan Thursday was $3.64 a gallon, which is 75 percent over last year’s average at this time of $2.04.

A regional pricing survey found a high price of $5.60 per gallon. Arwood said some anecdotal reports have indicated prices over $6 in some areas.

Snyder said if residents have concerns about pricing in their area, they should contact the office of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. Snyder said Schuette’s office has received some reports of price gouging and investigations are under way.

For low-income residents concerned about affording the higher propane costs, Snyder said calling 211 will put residents in touch with information about the closest Michigan Energy Assistance Program grantees, who can provide qualifying people with direct bill assistance.

The Michigan Department of Treasury is processing Home Heating Credit available to low-income utility customers in Michigan. The Michigan Public Service Commission announced $89 million in grants to 14 organizations to help low-income customers with energy assistance for this winter.

With a facility in Rapid River again producing propane after a supply delay, the propane shortage has eased a bit in the region over recent days.

However, Snyder said with several weeks of winter remaining in Michigan it’s too early to tell whether the situation will improve with warmer weather or whether the shortage will continue to challenge the state.

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