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Area residents experiencing Pro-pains

February 11, 2014

Public hotline available
With forecasted low temperatures below zero for southwestern Minnesota for the coming week, and highs in the single digits or teens, the propane shortage is hitting close to home for many.

A shortage of propane has been driving prices upward, and as the temperatures go down, the need for heating fuel increases. Prices are expected to continue above average, and they have skyrocketed since the beginning of winter.

The average price of a gallon of residential propane for the week ending January 27 was $4.659 in Minnesota, according to the Energy Information Administration, up nearly three dollars per gallon from the beginning of October, $1.675 per gallon.

The propane shortage began in the fall, when crop drying usage was in full force. The problem worsened last fall when the owner of a pipeline through Minnesota decided to switch its shipment use from propane to crude oil, resulting in propane supply disruptions as the change began to take place, according to State Representative Rod Hamilton.

Continued cold weather throughout the winter months has also contributed to the shortage.

The Minnesota State Emergency Operations Center has established a hotline for residents with issues or questions. Established on Thursday, the hotline has handled more than 800 calls in the first three days. The hotline, 1-800-657-3504 in greater Minnesota, remains open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

The hotline is staffed with experts from the Minnesota Department of Commerce who can provide information about Energy Assistance Programs, connect callers with resources in their home county, and provide other information.

Consumers who need financial assistance with heating bills may find help through LIHEAP, the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program.

The Department of Commerce administers LIHEAP in Minnesota, which helps low income households, especially those with seniors, children, veterans and people with disabilities with their heating bill.

Money is still available for households that have not already applied.

Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman announced LIHEAP Crisis payments would increase from $500 to $1,000 for applicants heating their homes with propane and heating oil. The crisis payments are currently available.

Qualifying families must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area; Minnesota has 32 local service providers. A list of local service providers and information on applying for the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program is available by visiting the Energy Assistance section of the Division of Energy Resources website or by calling 1-800-657-3710.

Governor Mark Dayton declared a State of Peacetime Emergency in Minnesota. Shipping restrictions have been eased between Minnesota and Texas, to allow for more ease of transport to alleviate the shortage. The State of Peacetime Emergency has been extended for thirty days.

In addition to the emergency executive order, Governor Dayton has instructed the Commissioner of Commerce to use his consumer protection authority to help guard Minnesotans from potential price gouging activities. Consumers who believe they may have been the victim of price gouging are encouraged to contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce's Consumer Help Line at (651) 539-1500 or toll-free at (800) 657-3602.

Resident can conserve energy by turning down thermostats. Turning down a few degrees during the day or the overnight hours can reduce usage.

Alternative heating sources can also be used, although proper care should be taken. Be sure portable space heaters have an automatic shut-off and turn them off when leaving the room or going to bed.

Any heating appliance with an open flame needs to be vented to the outside because the combustion process of burning fuel uses oxygen and also gives off carbon monoxide a deadly combination inside of a home.

The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) continues to be partially activated so that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Homeland Security and Emergency Management division can coordinate efforts of state agencies.

The state hotline numbers are 1-800-657-3504 in greater Minnesota and 651-297-1304 in the metro area. Also available are Department of Commerce online resources, at http://mn.gov/commerce/energy/consumers/Heating-Assistance/.







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