Propane prices have dropped a little, but Iowans continue dealing with prices that have more than doubled as the temperatures stay low and the furnace keeps burning through what’s in the tank. In Marshall County, when Larry Atcher heard propane prices were going up, he ran to check the level on his tank and found it just five percent full. He had to get more of the fuel. “Five-dollars and 11 cents a gallon I had to pay for it,” Atcher says. He got 100 gallons to keep him going and says that may last him a month.
Atcher says it’s not a good feeling when you see the bill. ” I was sick to my stomach. You know? ” Atcher lives and owns a small auto body shop in the town of Laurel. The town has 240 residents and it’s not served by a natural gas line. He says he’s keeping the heat down to about 55 degrees inside, and using electric heaters to stay warm, and wonders how others are managing the increased cost. “I would think some elderly people and low income families are the ones it’s going to hurt the worst. Because if you get caught without propane and can’t afford it, what do you do? Do you buy propane or do you buy food?,” Atcher asks.
He also happens to be the mayor of Laurel and the high cost of propane was the subject of a special city council meeting. The town contracts propane every year to lock in a lower price in the summer, but can only prepay as much as they used last year. Because last winter was warm, and this one has had a series of cold snaps, city clerk Lynne Gummert says the town has already used more than half of what it’s prepaid.
And she’s worried about residents, too. “Are we going to have issues with people being unable to pay their utility bill for the city — water, sewer– because they have this extra thing,” Gummert asked. The council ended up budgeting to pay about $3 a gallon. In the nearby town of Le Grand, Larry Parks runs a company that distributes propane and says it’s the only option for most rural residents to heat their home because of the cost of putting in natural gas supply lines. “A few years ago they ran to a few small towns in the area — and it’s pretty expensive to run a line very far — most of them that’s the only way they can heat (propane) it’s that or cut wood like the old days, and nobody wants to do that,” Parks says.
Parks says local distributors like him are letting customers buy smaller amounts of propane to keep them going while the prices stay high. But supplies are low and demand is high this winter.