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Continued propane delivery delays draw officials' notice

Continued propane delivery delays draw officials' notice

Some homeowners resorting to space heaters as tanks get low
Continued propane delivery delays draw officials' notice
Workers offload propane from a tanker truck for storage at a facility in Bath, N.Y., June 2, 2014.
Photographer: Kevin G. Hall/MCT

As another deep freeze settles over the region, homeowners who heat with propane are continuing to experience problems getting deliveries of gas.

Officials at the state level are starting to get involved.  

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is asking anyone with a supply crisis to call his office and is trying to speed up the gas supplier many customers have problems with.

And Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, is drawing up legislation that would allow customers to bypass the company that owns the tank at their home, and use a different supplier if the one that owns the tank can’t make a timely delivery.

Many propane suppliers are working extra hours and making extra runs as demand skyrockets during the cold snap, but the one singled out as a problem by Schneiderman, Santabarbara, and many customers has been Ferrellgas, a national firm based in Missouri that serves the Capital Region out of a Johnstown facility.

The unhappy customers say they are enduring extended waits to get an employee on the phone and are unable to schedule a timely delivery once they finally do.

The company released a statement Thursday saying that the situation is not unique to Ferrellgas and that it is trying to address the situation:

“Ferrellgas is working around the clock to make sure our customers receive their propane deliveries. This is a situation that is not unique to Ferrellgas or to propane consumers in New York state. Many propane consumers were caught off guard by how quickly these extreme cold temperatures arrived in the region.”

John Ekman fired off a statement of his own to the company, assailing it for failing to refill the tank at his home in Greenfield Center.

The retired pastor said he and his wife are on an autofill autopay program and shouldn’t have to call the company for a refill, but he sometimes does anyway, including on Dec. 29, when he was down to 25 percent in his tank. He was told he’d get a delivery Jan. 2 or 3. When he called Dec. 31 to confirm, the call-taker told him no delivery was scheduled, and that she had 500 customers on line and about 1,000 total without gas.

Annoyed and still without as gas delivery Thursday, he finally called Amerigas, and got a delivery two hours later.

It was exactly zero degrees outside the Ekman home Friday evening as he spoke to The Daily Gazette, but much warmer inside, which he was grateful for.

“It’s inconvenient for Judy and me to be cold, but we can handle that,” he said. “I really worry about the infirm elderly, people that are poor. I can run electric heaters, but that costs money.”

A key detail for Ekman is that he owns the propane tank outside his home. 

Propane suppliers rent tanks to some customers, and give them a discount in return for agreeing to buy gas only from them.

Santabarbara wants to create an exception in these types of agreements.

He got an SOS from an elderly Duanesburg couple Thursday night, more than a week after requesting a fill-up from Ferrellgas, which owns the tank outside their home. On Friday, with the tank down to 7 percent, they cut their thermostat to 60 degrees and spent the day in the living room in front of a space heater.

They’ll be getting a new tank from a different company Saturday. Santabarbara’s staff spent Friday trying to prompt a delivery from Ferrellgas, without success, and the couple finally gave up on it. 

“We must take quick action to give people more options during times of urgent need to make sure families have the fuel they need to keep the heat on,” Santabarbara said in a news release about the legislation he’ll be drafting.

Paul Ryder, another customer locked into a Ferrellgas supply contract, had no success getting a refill until he asked for help. He contacted the Attorney General’s Office after Schneiderman invited anyone having problems to call in (1-800-771-7755), and within two hours, a Ferrellgas truck showed up at his home.

“At this point in time, I was down below the level they told me I should never get down below,” Ryder said.

In September, he and his wife, who both have medical problems, moved from Westerlo to Pittstown. Both places are known for cold winters; he owns electric space heaters and had them running this week to conserve his propane.

“I don’t really like that, it makes me and my wife both nervous,” Ryder said.

He’s been a Ferrellgas customer for years, and may stick with them. Or he may pick a new supplier if he finds one with good prices.

Ryder said he appreciates the help of the Attorney General’s Office, but as he drove around Friday in the snowy winter wonderland near Hoosick Falls, he worried he’d need it again.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see, but to live through it is another thing,” he said.

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