Take state’s advice: Fill propane tank, make plans early

In recent days, state officials have been urging propane customers to start thinking about the upcoming heating season now.

They say filling propane tanks early, locking in a price for the winter and inquiring about potentially available budget payment plans can help consumers avoid being stung by higher prices or restricted deliveries should another propane shortage materialize this winter.

We agree this is good advice. Last winter’s bone-chilling, pipe-cracking misery was only made worse by the propane shortage circumstances which impacted many people in the Upper Peninsula.

However bad the upcoming winter turns out to be, anything that can be done to lessen the suffering of local residents – like preparing for another potential propane emergency ahead of time – should definitely be pursued.

Last winter, a series of circumstances converged to create a widespread propane shortage across a large section of the Midwest and east. More than 30 states, including Michigan, declared propane emergencies.

Numerous customer complaints were received about drivers limiting the amount of propane being provided to consumers and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office continues to investigate allegations of price gouging by two suppliers.

The Michigan Public Service Commission has created a new website (www.michigan.gov/propane) to help propane customers. The commission has also developed a tip sheet with several good suggestions for consumers.

The tip sheet includes information on fixed versus variable pricing plans, fees and other charges, delivery options, renting or owning propane tanks, switching propane retailers and comparison questions to ask retail marketers.

The commission also suggested low-income residents who think they may be unable to afford heating costs this winter to call 2-1-1 after Oct. 1 to learn more about state and federal funding available for assistance.

State officials say there are some factors on the horizon which could potentially result in creation of another propane shortage this winter, with its spiked prices and limited deliveries.

Planning now to avoid future problems is indeed good advice that should be heeded.