PETTIT, Ind. (AP) — Yvonne and Joe Bryant are lucky. Until April, at least.
The Tippecanoe County residents heat their modular home with propane from Lafayette Bottled Gas. They’re enrolled in the budget payment plan, so until April 30st they’re locked in at a price of $1.89 per gallon of propane.
Their son who lives down the road? He’s not so lucky.
“My son just got a bill for $1,059 this month,” Yvonne Bryant told the Journal & Courier. “That’s just January.”
The Bryants are just one family riding out the nationwide propane pinch. Prices have more than doubled; monthly energy bills have soared. Suppliers have attributed that jump to higher propane use by farmers and an unusually cold winter.
A gallon of propane is about $3.90 per gallon this week, down about 12 cents over the week but up about $1.59 from last year at the same time, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data released Wednesday.
According to the National Weather Service, Lafayette’s average temperature in January was 18.9 degrees, more than 7 degrees below normal temperatures. January was one of the snowiest months ever for central Indiana; since the service began keeping records in 1884, only three months have had more snowfall.
On Wednesday, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced that he would assist propane users facing critically low levels. Consumers with a tank supply at or below 10 percent who are unable to find an alternative supplier can call 800-382-5516 for assistance.
The day before, Gov. Mike Pence joined other Midwest governors in signing a letter to President Barack Obama requesting immediate assistance in addressing the propane shortage. Sen. Joe Donnelly on Friday took similar steps, joining 29 other senators who wrote to Obama asking for relief.
Last week, Pence declared an energy emergency for Indiana, promising to extend travel waivers to propane delivery truckers and to add $5 million to a fund used to assist homeowners with energy bills. The Indiana Senate gave first approval to lifting the propane sales tax that same week.
“Hoosiers continue to face severe propane shortages and unprecedented winter weather, with no relief from either in sight,” Pence said. “In recent weeks, the State of Indiana has acted decisively to alleviate the impact of this crisis on the people of this state and now encourages the federal government to take every possible action to relieve the supply shortages and ensure families, farmers, and business owners can heat their homes, barns, and businesses.”
For the Bryants, relief can’t come quickly enough. Although they’re saving money by being enrolled in their provider’s budget program, beginning April 30 they’ll be paying $5 a gallon to compensate for their low winter payments.
The couple is thinking about shutting off the furnace and switching to electric heating.
“That’s too much money,” Joe Bryant said. “That’s ridiculous.”
Propane users aren’t the only ones feeling a crunch. Natural gas users also will experience a bump in their January bill.
Natalie Hedde, spokeswoman for Vectren Corp., said January was 25 percent colder than January 2013. That translates to about a $30 difference for the average customer between their January bills from 2013 and 2014. That estimate doesn’t account for variables such as home size or appliance usage.
“The average customer this time last year paid an average of $130,” Hedde said. “That same customer during this time in 2014, in January, will be paying about $160.”
One resource for income-eligible families is local township trustees, who have allotted funds for heating assistance. A survey of some local trustees indicated few have seen many propane users requesting assistance at this point. Most expect more constituents will request assistance as the crisis wears on.
“I’ve had one … and her bill was over $800,” said Phyllis McKinley, trustee of Perry Township. “It’s going to make an impact. It just depends on when they had their last fill and when they have to have it filled again. I don’t think we’ve seen the worst yet.”
An estimated 10 percent of Hoosiers rely on propane to heat their homes.
Tippecanoe County resident Kelli Stump said propane prices for her typically range from $2.25 to $2.50 a gallon.
“The most recent quote I got was over $6 a gallon,” she said.
To fill Stump’s 500-gallon tank just halfway would be $1,200.
“When’s the last time you paid a gas bill of $1,200?” Stump asked. “It’s ridiculous.
“My kids would tell you I’m a miser because I keep our thermostat set on 66 — I’m trying to conserve it as best we can. Who expects your gas bill to increase two-thirds?”