Wet fall weather and the recent cold spells have combined to put a pinch on Illinois’ propane supplies, causing distribution problems across the state.
Propane distributors have traveled as far as Mississippi and Kansas to keep up with demand, the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises Newspapers reported. So far, no one has missed deliveries because of distribution problems.
John Tibbs, the director of education and safety for Illinois Propane Gas association, said he’s “going to be scared to death” if cold weather persists for the next couple weeks.
If cold temperatures continue, people who use propane to heat their homes could experience some negative effects. Nationwide, the blast of winter weather is sapping fuel supplies. Propane users are hit hardest by the fuel shortages, some paying up to $100 to $200 more per fill-up.
Michael McCafferty, a propane expert at Platts, an energy information provider, said the wholesale spot price of propane rose 70 percent between Friday and Tuesday to a record $2.45 per gallon.
Locally, propane providers have cut back on how much fuel is being delivered to their customers.
Shelby Electric Cooperative has a few thousand propane customers in its service area. It is used to getting four to five deliveries per week of propane for its bulk tanks. Last week there was only one delivery.
“We still have reserves, we’re not out of propane,” said Shelby Electric Cooperative spokesperson Kevin Bernson. “We are only going to distribute to customers when they reach a certain level and then it’s only limited to 100 gallons per customer.”
Providers are urging their customers to not panic, but to think about how to conserve propane, such as using space heaters.
“We’ve never seen anything like this. The cold weather is bad for people using propane for heat,” Bernson said. “Our concern is to make people aware and to get them to look into alternatives for heating and to conserve propane usage.”
The Illinois Department of Transportation in December relaxed rules for propane drivers, allowing them to log more hours on the road. Truckers have to wait in longer lines to fill up tankers or travel farther to get propane.
“Relaxing the trucking rules was a really, really big help,” said Don Herring, an energy department manager with Evergreen FS in Bloomington. He said everything is fine, but there is deep concern because the longer it stays cold, the worse it will get.
Propane supplies were already low for a few reasons. Farmers harvested corn late in the year, and much of it was wet, forcing them to buy propane to dry the grain before storage. Then the polar vortex that swept the country in early January pushed up heating demand and drained supplies further.
According to the Energy Department 5.5 million U.S. households heat with propane, mostly in the Midwest and South.