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Propane Suppliers, Dealers Take Measures To Avoid Shortages This Winter

Last Winter's Crisis Stemmed From High Demand, Disruptions In Supply

Some distributors are supplying customers with larger propane tanks. Photo: Tom Magliery (CC-BY-NC-SA).

Propane suppliers and local dealers in northwestern Wisconsin are taking extra steps to avoid another heating crisis such as the one that happened last year.

Last winter was unprecedented for the state’s propane industry: Extreme cold caused incredible demand for gas, while supply disruptions caused prices to skyrocket and some dealers to go out of business.

Mike Covelli, general manager of Northern Lakes Cooperative in Hayward, said that this year, they’re spreading out contracts with suppliers and upgrading some of their customers’ tanks from 350- to 1,000-gallon tanks. He said that the change would certainly help with propane delivery.

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“We don’t have as many trips, we don’t have as much payroll, we don’t have as much gas and wear and tear on the truck,” Covelli said. “But it also behooves the customer because that person has a larger supply on hand at the home.”

Last winter, a major pipeline that carried propane to the Midwest was reversed in order to send petroleum products north. In response, two terminals are under construction in Hixton and near Barron to bring gas in by train.

Wisconsin Propane Gas Association Executive Director Brandon Scholz said that the construction shows the industry is adapting.

“Knowing that the supply of propane from Cochin was no longer available, propane marketers in Wisconsin and Minnesota have worked to find other sources of supply — other terminals — in addition to putting supply tanks on-site at their businesses,” he said.

Other communities, like those in rural Burnett County, are looking for longer-term solutions. Several villages there are looking into expanding natural gas options to avoid propane entirely.

According to the latest U.S. Census of Population and Housing, more than 230,000 Wisconsinites use propane to heat their homes.