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Propane crisis continues as residents complain to state hotlines

Ohio residents continued to call state hotlines this week with complaints that they are running out of propane heating fuel or suspicions that they are victims of price-gouging.

As of late Tuesday, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office had received 389 calls from mostly rural residents who depend on the fuel to heat their homes and outbuildings. The office has an ongoing price-gouging investigation underway.

Among those who called is Paul West, who lives with his wife and son on a 700-acre farm near Greenville in Darke County on the Indiana/Ohio state line. He said that his tank was down to 20 percent full on Monday. His 150-year-old farmhouse is only heated to 62 degrees, he said, but he feared he’d run out of fuel by today (Wednesday).

His supplier told him he couldn’t be refilled for two weeks. Around the time a news article appeared online on the Dayton Daily News website on Monday afternoon, his supplier called to say he was in the neighborhood and could provide a refill.

West got his 150-gallon refill Tuesday. “That should last us two weeks unless we get a cold spell,” he said.

Consumers who suspect price gouging or other unfair business practices regarding propane should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office by calling 800-282-0515. The office is asking consumers to provide as much documentation as they can.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has also set up a hotline at (614) 799-3897 that’s operated from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Propane supplies have been severely constrained largely because of unusual cold spells in January that pushed temperatures well below zero degrees. Most propane arrives in Ohio by truck. Residents who need the fuel are typically in rural areas not served by natural gas lines. Suppliers have been short-filling tanks to help spread the available supply around.

Outages have been reported throughout the state including in Montgomery, Portage, Fairfield, Crawford, Lorain, Brown, Logan, Darke and Union counties.

“It’s still a big issue,” Holly Karg, PUCO spokeswoman, said. “It is slowly improving every day as we get customers connected with suppliers. Call volume is dwindling but we are not out of this.”

At the Ohio Development Services Agency, spending to assist low-income residents pay for propane and bottle gas has gone up $1 million this year.

So far this season, 17,515 households were assisted in purchasing propane or bottle gas at a cost of $11.4 million. During last year’s program from Nov. 1, 2012 until Feb. 10, 2013, 17,416 households were assisted with propane and bottle gas expenses at a cost of $10.4 million.

The price of propane in Ohio was last reported at around $3.90 a gallon, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

For more information on the state’s Winter Crisis Program and provider local agencies, telephone (800) 282-0880 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The hearing-impaired with a telecommunication device should call (800) 686-1557.

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