TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Unseasonably wet crops in the fall and bitter cold temperatures this winter are sending propane prices skyrocketing. Raising concerns among Kansans.
Thirty-three states, Including Kansas have issued a regional propane state of emergency due to low propane levels, but with prices rising to record levels, some residents in rural Kansas might not be able to foot the bill to keep warm this winter.
On Wednesday, Gov. Sam Brownback announced temporary measures he hope will provide relief to people who rely on propane.
“For those Kansans who rely on propane, particularly in our rural areas, a propane shortage and rising costs can put them at risk during cold weather,” said Governor Brownback. “While Kansas has been spared the worst of the cold weather, we must ensure they have continued access to propane at reasonable cost. This is an issue of safety and well-being for our citizens.”
He ordered the Dept. of Children and Families (DCF) to give priority status to Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) applications from people who use propane to heat their homes, even if their accounts are delinquent. He's also ordered DCF to reach out to low income families to make sure they know these programs are available.
He also has issued two executive orders to exempt truckers from certain hours of operation to ensure propane trucks are moving. They will run through February 14, 2014.
“The health and safety of Kansans is my primary concern in taking these actions,” Governor Brownback said. “Bringing our state agencies and the propane industry together during this shortage should ensure that Kansans who rely on propane for heat and energy are not faced with losing this critical service.”
He told state agencies to pay attention to the shortage and make sure they provide priority assistance to propane users throughout the state and is encouraging representatives of the propane industry to work to keep propane flowing to Kansas, especially to residential users.
Glen Brunkow uses propane for a variety of every day essentials at his Westmoreland home.
Brunkow said, "We have a propane furnace, we use propane to heat our water, we use propane for our stove, so its a big part of our budget."
The Brunkow family usually goes through about 200 gallons every six months, with a bill around $400 dollars. Three weeks ago Glen was shocked to see a bill of $600, at $3 a gallon. Since then it has only gotten worse.
Some Kansans tell 13 News they went from paying less than $2 dollars a gallon in the fall to nearly $5 dollars or more this week.
"It's jumped two to three dollars in the last 3-4 weeks. I can't imagine filling up a full tank. I am worried about people that can't afford it. I'm worried about those on fixed incomes that make low wages" said Glen.
Shawn Cody, President of Propane Central which supplies propane to customers in 45 counties across Kansas says an unusual harvest in the fall required an abundance of propane to dry wet corn combined with a cold winter has created a shortage of propane which directly has driven up prices.
The office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy says about 10% of Kansans use propane to heat their home. While that number may be small, residents like Glen hope nationwide propane companies are not taking advantage of residents living in rural areas.
"If there were a bigger percentage of people that used propane, there is no doubt this would be a bigger concern. I hope some of our lawmakers are looking into it so that there isn't any price gouging" said Brunkow.
Missouri's Attorney General announced Monday that his office would investigate rising propane prices and, on Wednesday, Attorney General Derak Schmidt announced his office would join the effort.
“Our office is participating in a multi-state inquiry into the recent spike in propane prices,” said Attorney General Derek Schmidt. “We are also meeting with local industry representatives to determine the cause of these increases."
Officials blamed the shortage on a "perfect storm" of factors, including the large grain drain season and an extremely cold winter in the Midwest and in Kansas.
For applications or questions about the LIEAP program, call DCF at 1-800-432-0043. You may also apply online, visit www.dcf.ks.gov. The application period began Jan. 21 and runs through March 31.