Propane shortage, frigid temperatures prompt LePage to declare civil emergency

Gov. Paul LePage
Gov. Paul LePage Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 13, 2013, at 1:19 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 13, 2013, at 3:55 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage issued a limited emergency proclamation on Friday to ensure that heating fuel delivery trucks can operate for extra hours in light of frigid temperatures and a propane shortage across Maine and beyond.

The governor’s proclamation waives U.S. Department of Transportation rules and extends the hours of service for heating fuel transport and delivery trucks in Maine for two weeks.

“This declaration will allow heating fuel to be delivered to Maine families when they need it most during this frigid weather,” said LePage in a news release. “Keeping homes warm is critical to protect the public health and safety of Mainers.”

The availability of propane, which LePage said is already in short supply because of the closure of the Northern Rail Route in connection with July’s fiery rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, is expected to worsen as colder-than-average weather persists. Propane has been sent to the midwestern United States to dry crops, which means fewer trucks are available to bring propane to Maine from other parts of the country. As a result, propane inventories are 25 percent lower than normal in Maine.

Patrick Woodcock, director of LePage’s energy office, said Friday the disruption in the propane market has gone on for months but that supplies were deemed sufficient until recently when the temperature dropped. A wider problem, according to Woodcock, is that there is not enough propane supply infrastructure in New England.

“When we saw this cold snap, in addition to this storm that’s coming, it was prudent to ensure that the transportation network would have all options available to bring propane to market,” said Woodcock. “The rail network has been a key artery into New England for propane, and that service has been limited.”

According to data from Woodcock’s office, the price of many types of heating fuels has been creeping up, including propane. As of Monday, the average statewide cost of propane was $2.85 a gallon, which was 8 cents higher than it was a week before. That’s higher than it was any time last winter, though not as high as it was the previous winter.

By comparison, the average cash price for No. 2 heating oil was $3.64 a gallon and had risen 8 cents since late November. The price of kerosene was $4.04 a gallon, and was also climbing.

Converting Monday’s average fuel prices to a common heating unit based on the cost of producing a million BTUs, electrical baseboard heat is the most expensive heating method in Maine at $43.96, followed by propane at $30.33, No. 2 heating oil at $26.25, natural gas at $15.50, wood pellets at $14.67 and cord wood at $11.36.

“As every Mainer knows, home heating costs have been unaffordable for a long time and this winter is no different,” said Woodcock. “The bottom line is that heat is going to be very expensive this year and we really need to move forward in this state to bring modern and efficient heating equipment to more Mainers.”

LePage said that during the coming weeks he will re-evaluate whether to extend the civil emergency, which will be in place until at least Dec. 27.

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