As Wisconsin’s propane shortage continues to affect hundreds of thousands of residents around the state, the price of propane is through the roof at $5.74 a gallon, more than $4 higher than its usual price.
The shortage is mainly affecting those in the northern part of the state in areas not connected to Wisconsin’s natural gas pipelines, which is the main source of heat energy for Wisconsinites.
Natural gas imported from Canada and states such as Oklahoma and Louisiana provide nearly three-quarters of Wisconsin’s energy for space heating, according to a report from the Wisconsin State Energy Office. Because these major pipelines do not reach many areas in northern Wisconsin, residents and businesses rely on propane gas, wood burners and electric space heaters.
“Places that we are seeing folks using propane and heat oil as their primary heating source are generally in those places of the state not served by natural gas pipelines,” Holly O’Higgins, energy analyst and program manager at the Wisconsin State Energy Office, said.
Adding to the energy issue, a natural gas pipeline in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada exploded last weekend, causing a shortage and increased demand for natural gas and propane from Wisconsin residents.
As the propane crisis persists, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has approved a $5 million program that will create and expand current lines of credit to Wisconsin propane distributors for continued assistance during this time of emergency, according to a WEDC statement.
The extremely high prices for propane have made it increasingly difficult for people in need of heating to purchase it, Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, said.
“This is a crisis that is affecting families and businesses alike. I have heard from both individuals and businesses that simply cannot afford the current price of propane or, worse, cannot find a distributor to fill their tank,” he said. “I have heard from distributors who cannot afford the $40,000 to $50,000 they need to fill their delivery trucks to make their rounds with their customers.”
In a letter to President Barack Obama about the propane shortage, Gov. Scott Walker asked for the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services to expedite funding to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which he said is “a valuable tool in helping families stay warm during these cold winter months.”
Despite the large concern surrounding propane supplies, propane users only account for about one-twelfth of the total heating fuel usage in Wisconsin.
Because most homes and businesses are not connected to propane pipelines, there is a large need for companies to truck in propane, which causes major delays, O’Higgins said. She added wood and heating oil are two major energy alternatives for those the shortage has affected.
In terms of the future of heating in Wisconsin, O’Higgins said she does not expect to see a change in the way Wisconsin residents heats their homes and businesses in the coming years based on the relatively static usage in past years.
“There is not currently a big push to see renewables as a primary source for space heating,” O’Higgins said.