WEB EXTRA: What You Need to Know During Propane Shortage

Updated: 02/20/2014 11:51 AM KSTP.com By: Jennie Olson

Photo: KSTP/File
Photo: KSTP/File

KSTP File Photo
KSTP File Photo

Propane is the only source of heat for more than 200,000 Minnesotans, and for many users the price per gallon has more than doubled because of the extreme cold this winter. Average prices hovered around $2.44 a gallon for the week ending Jan. 20.

Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman says everything from pipeline issues to the higher usage have led to the higher prices.

Gov. Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency this week because of the severe shortage of propane and other home heating fuels statewide. The order calls on the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to activate the Minnesota Emergency Operations Plan.

Now, the State Emergency Operations Center has established a public hotline for Minnesotans with propane issues or questions.

Anyone with questions about their propane situation or who are in danger of running out of heating fuel can call 651-297-1304 in the metro area or 1-800-657-3504 in Greater Minnesota. The hotline will operate from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and will be staffed by employees with the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

What Consumers and Minnesota Residents Can Do
People who use propane to heat their homes can take several steps at this time, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety:
       •    Conserve energy as much as possible. Turn down thermostats and be aware of your propane use.
       •    Check in on your family members, neighbors and friends.  Call 9-1-1 only in a crisis
       •    State Hotline and Department of Commerce online resources
              o    1-800-657-3504 in greater Minnesota
              o    651-297-1304 in the metro area
              o    Department of Commerce Energy Assistance section

Use Alternative Heat Sources Safely
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, people often turn to alternative heat sources to stay warm when the temperature plummets. The State Fire Marshal (SFM) reminds residents to use caution when using alternative heating sources.
Types of alternative heating sources often seen include:
       •    Portable electric heaters
       •    Liquid-fueled heaters:
              o    Kerosene
              o    Waste oil
       •    Gas-burning heaters – Propane is most common
       •    Solid-fuel heating:
              o    Wood-burning
              o    Pellet-burning

Any heating appliance with an open flame needs to be vented to the outside to avoid accidentally carbon monoxide poisoning.

Other tips when using alternative heat sources, from DPS:
       •    Keep anything flammable -- including pets and people -- at least three feet away from heating equipment.
       •    Make sure portable space heaters have an automatic shut-off.
       •    Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
       •    Space heaters need constant watching. Never leave a space heater on when you go to sleep. Never place a space heater close to any sleeping person.
       •    Make sure all cords on electric heaters are in good shape and checked periodically for any frays or breaks in the insulation surrounding the wires.
       •    Check the cord and outlet occasionally for overheating; if it feels hot, discontinue use.
       •    Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes.
       •    Use a heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up to date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards.

Low-Income Assistance
Minnesota families who need help paying heating bills can apply for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program. Eligible families must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area; Minnesota has 32 local service providers. A list of local service providers and information on applying for the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program is available here or by calling 1-800-657-3710.