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Propane shortage kept area suppliers reeling

Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, headquartered in Ellsworth, is one of many businesses providing propane to customers in this area. President and CEO Larry Dokkestul said last week he believes the worst of this winter’s experiences with the heating fuel may be ending. (Herald photo by Bill Kirk)

A combination of factors led to the recent propane shortage in this region, not the least of which has been colder-than-normal winter temperatures, but neither is that bitter blast the only one.

That’s the contention of President and CEO Larry Dokkestul of the Ellsworth-headquartered Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, among many businesses providing propane to customers here, who said Thursday he believes the worst of the situation may be nearing an end. He based the prediction on a recent drop in the price the co-op and other dealers pay for the product.

“I feel sorry for the small independent dealers,” Dokkestul said, understanding some of them may not have survived all the turmoil. Meantime, the co-op put a plan in place to help its customers weather the storm, so to speak.

From his perspective, the difficulties pre-date this past fall, long before there were signs of a frigid spell, he said. Explaining there are two main propane terminals—one in Texas and the other in Kansas—with the Midwest and Northeastern U.S. relying on the Conway, Kan., facility which entered last fall with lower-than-normal supplies. Then, heavy crop-drying demand surfaced and that, coupled with visits from what he’s heard described as “the Polar Vortex,” contributed to the troubles.

Supplies became “tight,” the co-op executive said, even prior to the terminals going on allocation.

“We’re all used to seeing supply crises sometimes,” he said, suggesting this was nonetheless different as prices rose from under $2 per gallon to almost $5 in a brief time.

Pierce Pepin’s customer assistance plan hasn’t included rationing, which was the case for a lot of dealers, he said. The co-op has strived to make sure its customers have product and is working with them on arrangements for payment.

“The price is the hard part,” Dokkestul said, not just for customers trying to handle it when $5-a-gallon propane is thrown into the mix, but for dealers expected to pre-pay.

For more please read the Feb. 19 print version of the Herald

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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