Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 6, 2014

Propane prices dip; gasoline up for spring

TRAVERSE CITY — Michigan’s propane prices are finally falling after the state sent out a call for help.

A propane shortage caused prices to spike to a statewide average of $3.76 per gallon the first week of February, well above an average of $2.10 at the time last year, according to data from the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The increase prompted a call for help from across the Midwest, and now an increased supply is slowly knocking down prices.

“There’s been more supply because of the record freezing temperatures; supplies from around the country have been targeted to the Midwest,” said Joe Ross, a spokesman for the Michigan Propane Gas Association.

Propane prices dropped to $3.34 throughout February, though that was still far above normal. A series of events, ranging from a late, damp corn crop that had to be dried to a cold, early winter, caused a shortage of propane this winter.

Prices skyrocketed in part because it’s so costly to transport the fuel across the country, Ross said.

Michigan was one of the hardest-hit states, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission directed a pipeline owner to prioritize propane shipments from Texas to the Midwest and northeast, said Judy Palnau, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The order, coupled with a waiver to allow truck drivers to spend more time on the roads to deliver propane, helped relieve pressure from the shortage.

The demand for propane and deliverable fuels is still high, even though March usually marks the beginning of the end of the heating season.

The Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, a Traverse City-based nonprofit that provides heating assistance to needy people, is still booked out into April, with no immediate end in sight.

“Every time it decreases that’s a good thing, but really prices are still pretty high, especially for clients we see on low income or sick incomes. It’s still unaffordable,” said Tish Garthe-Shiner, the utility coordinator at NMCAA.

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