Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in Wisconsin Saturday, Jan. 25, regarding the situation, putting all state agencies on alert to be prepared to assist as needed in response to the cold weather snap and propane shortage.
The supply shortage in the upper Midwest has caused delivery delays and reduced delivery amounts for propane customers in Wisconsin, as well as all Midwestern states. The propane shortage has been caused by unusually cold winter temperatures; a major pipeline that supplies propane to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa was temporarily closed for maintenance from Nov. 28 to Dec. 18; and a wet fall that increased propane demand for grain drying.
In response to the shortage, the Portage County Emergency Management and Portage County Health and Human Services departments issued a special public health advisory to prevent cold-related illness and death.
The departments advised residents to contact their propane vendors when the tank reaches 30 percent full. Because of the limited propane supply, propane vendors are not able to fill tanks completely right now. They also need more advance notice on delivering propane to a home since there is a high demand for the heating fuel.
Residents who wait to call until after the tank is below 30 percent may not be able to get propane delivered before the tank runs out.
Some of the things consumers can do to help, the department said, include:
* – Make reasonable adjustments on the thermostat to conserve propane.
* – Check on neighbors, especially the sick, disabled or frail elderly.
* – Use alternative heat sources such as wood or pellet stoves: many propane customers also have wood stoves.
* – Be careful with electric space heaters, especially heaters which tip over or are too close to curtains, bedding, etc., can be a serious fire hazard.
* – Do not attempt to connect a small propane tank (such as used for outdoor grills) to the furnace – this is extremely unsafe.
* – Apply for heating assistance and the Portage County service office. The local number to call is Portage County Home Energy Services at 715-344-5999.
To find more information about where to apply for heating assistance through the WHEAP program, call 866-HEATWIS (432-8947) or visit www.homeenergyplus.wi.gov. For more information regarding the propane shortage go to www.energyindependence.wi.gov.
Matt Dykstra, deputy director of Portage County Emergency Management, said the county has shelters available, if needed, to house residents or they could stay with friends or relatives.
Before they leave the house, however, he suggested they winterize it to avoid additional damage while they are gone.
He said Energy Services or the United Way of Portage County’s help line at 2-1-1 can direct people to state programs or others for additional services.
Propane customers can also expect a large bill to get a propane tank filled right now, Dykstra said. Propane had been around the $1 per gallon mark but has soared to $4, $5 and even $6 per gallon, and propane providers have been requiring a minimum of 100 to 250 gallons to fill a tank.
While vendors in the county have a shortage, he said, they have been able to partially fill orders, but there is also concern about some cash-on-delivery requirements. “The big thing is people don’t have the funds to pay the bill.”
Residents need to contact county-level officials first about the situation regarding assistance on propane because programs are available for fuel assistance based on median income and household size and the numbers for that income can vary.
Propane isn’t regulated by the government, so there are no government controls on production or price, he said.
Dykstra said the county is looking at other options to help residents with the bills, such as checking to see if the Veterans Administration can provide assistance for veterans.
Portage County Executive Patti Dreier said the Health and Human Services Department has vouchers available for overnight stays in the event someone has to leave their residence.
“This is an entirely different scenario we have seen from other disasters developing in the county like floods,” she said.
Dykstra said the county has been preplanning for colder events because of the polar vortex two weeks ago, and now the main goal is to get information about the resources to constituents.
He said officials are trying to identify facilities that use propane, such as assisted living residences. “We want to address things before it becomes an emergency,” he said.
He again urged those who need assistance to call county-level offices first to get preliminary information.
Walker has also issued executive orders that allow propane delivery truckers to drive longer hours and the state Department of Transportation has authorized a weight limit relief order for vehicles transporting energy in the state to increase the amount of propane carried in a single trip.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has also issued a federal declaration of emergency so that propane and fuel transporters can help meet the demand to get propane across the Midwest.
State Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, a member of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) board, said that action Tuesday, Jan. 28, by WEDC to boost capital access for propane dealers will help ease a potentially dangerous shortage in Wisconsin.
“With the price of propane skyrocketing, dealers are having problems maintaining the cash flow they need to obtain propane for their customers,” Lassa said. “The program we approved today won’t directly impact the nationwide propane shortage, but it will remove a hurdle that could prevent the available supply from reaching Wisconsin consumers who rely on it for heating their homes.”
The WEDC board met in emergency session to approve the $5 million program, which will guarantee new or expanded lines of credit for propane dealers. The program will expire automatically in April. It is a guaranty of collections, which means that lenders may only apply for the funds if other collection methods are unsuccessful.