The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 1, 2014

Local households, lawmakers deal with propane shortage

By Samantha Pidde
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — For Whiteside County Farmer Doug Temple, who uses propane to heat as many as 1,300 baby pigs at one time, the fuel is a necessity.

“If we were to run out of propane, that would be a bad deal," Doug said.

However, running out of propane is something some residents of the Midwest and regions in the country could face. On Jan. 10, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad suspended regulatory provisions pertaining to hours of service for drivers of commercial motor vehicles transporting propane, through an emergency declaration. This declaration ended at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

The U.S. DOT Midwestern office also issued a regional order allowing transporters to move propane more freely, impacting 10 Midwestern states. According to a press release from the The Iowa Propane Gas Association, Branstad was also successful in asking Texas Gov. Rick Perry to waive licensing, permitting and certification requirements on trucks and operators hauling liquefied petroleum in an effort to "help ease the shortage of propane and help propane suppliers keep up with demand."

When he first takes the 16-day-old, 12-pound pigs into his nursery, Temple keeps his heat at 84 degrees. At this temperature, the building can burn 100 gallons a day. After two weeks or so, the pigs are big enough to generate their own heat.

Planning on cleaning his nursery out on Wednesday for another batch, he checked the price of propane Tuesday, only to find it at $4.85 per gallon. Last month he paid $1.60.

Area Farm Bureau and IPGA representatives credit this price increase in part to a propane shortage traced back to this fall, when abundant grain crops were harvested throughout the upper Midwest almost simultaneously instead of in stages. Farmers required large amounts of propane to dry the large, wet crop.

“It's a bit of anomaly of prices being so high,” Iowa Farm Bureau Public Relations Manager Laurie Johns said.

Don Temple, President of the Whiteside County Farm Bureau and Doug's father, used a great deal of propane this fall, drying his corn.

“In the fall it was a decent price. They were telling us it was plentiful,” Don said.

While Don's house is heated through a geothermal system, he said a lot of rural households use propane and are feeling the pinch from the increased price, which has nearly tripled.

"The heavy demand has led to higher prices for all heating fuels. IPGA recognizes the prolonged winter weather has stretched the budgets of all consumers faced with higher electric, natural gas and propane bills," stated a IPGA press release.

This week, IPGA Executive Director Deb Grooms and her staff met with state representatives to find a solution to this problem. The association has asked the state’s Congressional delegation to support an emergency supplemental appropriation for the federal Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program in response to the potential shortage. State Representatives Joe Riding of Altoona and Todd Prichard of Charles City were filing an emergency bill this week to provide an additional $1 million to LIHEAP, according to the IPGA press release.

The IPGA urges propane users to arrange for fuel deliveries when their tanks read at 25 percent.

“Allowing a tank to fall below that level increases the chance of running out,” Grooms said. “Iowa code requires safety inspections on all tanks that run out of gas during normal service, which can result in an extra cost and delay.”

In the mean time, Doug had added extra insulation to his hog building. The price increase has not affected him yet, as he did purchase some before the prices increased. For now, he plans to ration what he has and hopes the price goes down.

“(I will) try to make the stuff we have on hand last,” Doug said.