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Minnesota Officials Probe Propane Shortage, Price Spike

PHOTO: With the recent bitter cold and a spike in the price of propane, Minnesota is seeing a higher number of residents reaching out for heating assistance. Photo credit: Mark Evans

PHOTO: With the recent bitter cold and a spike in the price of propane, Minnesota is seeing a higher number of residents reaching out for heating assistance. Photo credit: Mark Evans


January 15, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The most brutal cold snap in years is now just a memory, but it's becoming a nightmare as residents across Minnesota open their utility bills.

Those hit hardest are homes and businesses that heat with propane, which has spiked in price by 40 percent since October. That led Gov. Mark Dayton to lift some restrictions on hauling propane and other heating oils. Also keeping a close eye on the situation is Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman.

"We're very mindful of the needs to make sure that those who are dependent upon propane for either residential or business sources - or even, we had an issue during agriculture season - that we resolve it this year," Rothman said. "And then as well, we're trying to make sure that people understand that this issue needs to be tackled and continue to be worked on, through next year."

In addition to higher demand from the cold spell and, before that, a wet harvest season, another cause of the shortage is that a pipeline that once carried propane into the region now is being modified for other purposes, putting more pressure on trucks and rail.

Those who are struggling to pay their heating bills - be it propane, heating oil or natural gas - are being encouraged to look into the Energy Assistance Program. Rothman said it's based on income and helps a lot of children, working poor and senior citizens across the state.

"We put out grant sizes of about $500, which can go a long ways for families," he said, "and bottom line is that we have these funds and we want to make sure that people get the help that they need during the winter months here."

The Energy Assistance Program is federally funded and Minnesota has about $9 million available, but Rothman said that'll likely be depleted by the end of February.

More information on the heating help is available through the Department of Commerce - online at mn.gov/commerce - or the local Community Action agencies throughout the state.

Minnesota propane and heating oil price data is at eia.gov.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN