Propane shortage continues for Northeast Wisconsin

Country Visions Cooperative propane tanks, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)
Country Visions Cooperative propane tanks, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

DE PERE - Just like the cold weather, a propane shortage that has affected Wisconsin and other parts of the Midwest is showing no signs of letting up.

In places, prices have soared to $5 a gallon, a forty percent jump just this week.

The spike is blamed on a supply problem caused by a bitterly cold winter.

A major Midwest supply pipeline was also temporarily shut down last month.

And farmers used more propane-fueled equipment in the fall to dry wet grain.

Now Governor Walker is calling a summit to look at prices, and how to get more propane to residents.

Country Visions Cooperative delivers to more than 18,000 customers throughout Northeast Wisconsin. Beth Green had her tank filled partially Friday.

"My husband called this morning because we were just under 20 percent. And when he called, he was told  that they are only allowing 150 gallons. Normally we would get between 300 and 400 gallons," said Beth Green, Hobart.

Green's story is part of a propane shortage that has gripped much of the Midwest. Propane companies are scrambling to get the gas wherever they can. Country Visions price was $1.69 a gallon in December. Friday it was $3.99.

"We are not taking on any new customers, we're giving enough to keep them going. We're not obviously filling up their tanks, but we need to get them through this cold spell," said Steve Zutz, Country Visions Cooperative president/CEO.

The general manager of Lakes Gas Company in Crivitz says even at $5 a gallon, the company is losing money each day. A delivery charge has been implemented.

"A curtailment charge if you want to call it that. Anything you call it of 30 cents a gallon on contracted gallons," said Steven Sargeant, Lakes Gas Co. general manager.

But with prices going up and up, some wonder why? Is it a manufactured crisis or something else.

"This is absolutely not a man-made thing. In our economy, the best solution for high prices, and supply problems is high prices. I'm going to say it will correct itself," saie Zutz.

We are certainly seeing that people are paying more for propane because of the demand. We have not seen any issues of price gouging. But certainly if we hear of those complaints, we will investigate them," said Stephanie Marquis, Wisconsin Department of Administration spokesperson.

"We obviously would like a short-term solution. We don't believe there is one," said Brandon Scholz, Wisconsin Propane Gas Association managing director.

Governor Walker has called a summit for Monday. State officials, and industry leaders are scheduled to address the situation.

Until then, people like Beth Green will have to hope for warmer weather.

"Winters are expensive. Can't wait for spring? Oh yeah, can't wait for spring," said Green.

The shortage is starting to affect other parts of people's lives.

Grace Lutheran Church in Pembine is canceling Sunday services, because its propane tank may be empty by then.