Traverse City Record-Eagle

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February 5, 2014

Propane prices draw complaints

TRAVERSE CITY — The Michigan attorney general’s office received nearly 300 complaints about high propane prices in two weeks as regulators report signs of easing in Michigan’s propane shortage.

Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, said the office received 205 phone complaints and 91 written complaints since Jan. 22. Most of the complaints allege price-gouging by propane providers.

“Each complaint is being reviewed in accordance with our procedures,” Yearout said, adding the attorney general’s office is encouraging consumers who suspect gouging to keep receipts and other proof of payment.

Northern Michigan’s federal legislators said they also are receiving lots of complaints about the high cost of propane, which approached $5 a gallon in parts of the Upper Peninsula last week. The statewide average is now at $3.61 a gallon, a 37 percent price rise in one week. Propane prices are now 72 percent higher than a year ago, said Judy Palnau, spokeswoman for the Michigan Public Service Commission.

“Of all the congressional districts in the state, we have the most propane users,” said U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek, R-1st District, who wrote President Barack Obama asking emergency contingency funds be allocated to help northern Michigan residents who struggle to pay their propane bills. “It’s a rural district, and a lot of them depend on it for their heat. The prices have gone through the roof ... some of the prices have been above $5 a gallon. That’s tough on anybody.”

Gov. Rick Snyder declared Michigan in a state of emergency and issued an executive order extending hours of service for propane and heating oil deliveries.

A long cold streak and pipeline issues are blamed for the shortage.

‘There is some good news,” Palnau said. “There are additional supplies that are becoming available and one facility in the Upper Peninsula that was not receiving product started adding propane ... with regard to the Lower Peninsula, the dealers we are talking to say we have adequate supply. Michigan dealers are expecting prices to begin to decrease.”

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