The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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January 24, 2014

Propane users get sticker shock

Price was $1.50 last fall, $5 Friday

Late last fall, a gallon of propane gas was about $1.50 — a level it had long hovered around.

When the propane delivery truck rolled up to Tim Gieseke's rural New Ulm residence a few days ago, the driver filled Gieseke's tank with 224 gallons of fuel and handed him the bill.

"It was $3.75 a gallon. Around $800," Gieseke said.

As it turns out, Gieseke got somewhat of a bargain. On Friday, local propane dealers were selling it for around $5 a gallon.

For those who heat their homes with propane, the price spiral — with no guarantee it won't continue upward — is a financial burden. Most rural propane tanks are 500 gallons and are filled 80 percent full, or about 400 gallons. At $5 that's a $2,000 bill.

How long a tank lasts varies widely. Someone heating a home and maybe a larger shop could go through that tank in about a month. Gieseke is hoping he will be able to nurse his now full tank through much of the rest of the winter.

"I mentioned to the family that we're turning (the heat) down a notch," he said.

The price spike, being felt nationwide, is caused by a couple of things. Corn harvested by farmers across the Midwest last fall contained more moisture than normal, meaning they used a lot of propane to heat burners that dry the corn kernels as they go inside grain bins.

Then bitter cold weather came quick and has persisted, increasing usage across the nation.

One area co-op manager, who didn't want his name used, said it's become more and more difficult to get propane.

Many of the area propane providers get product from pipelines near Eagle Lake and Vernon Center. But little is available at Eagle Lake and the Vernon Center pipeline is being allocated, so each propane business can only take a certain amount.

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