Propane shortage hits central Illinois, lawmakers attempt to help

By Ashley McNamee

January 29, 2014 Updated Jan 29, 2014 at 12:06 AM CDT

MANITO, Ill -- The wicked winter is affecting 40-percent of Illinois homeowners who rely on propane. The price for a gallon of propane is nearly three times higher this winter than last.

Three state lawmakers will introduce an amendment Wednesday to increase energy assistance programs for propane users and create short term loans for propane distributors.

"This helps them finance the purchase of that propane up front and increasing road weight limits helps them haul larger amounts to get it to the customer," said St. Sen. Dale Righter, one of the amendment's sponsors.

For Manito Oil and Propane the issue is getting the propane itself. The distributor used to receive a semi-load a day, now it receives one every three days.

"Cold weather came along after a big grain drying season, and the distribution problem became bigger and prices were affected," said John Parkin, co-owner Manito Oil and Propane.

He says pipeline issues allowed costs to soar from $1.74 to more than $5. As a result, his employees are making more trips, not filling tanks completely and he's paying more overtime.

"It's six days a week, somewhere between 50 and 55 hours a week," said Loren Meeker, a Manito Oil and Propane employee. "This week will be a little more, we can actually short fill everyone."

Even though the price of propane is starting to ease into the mid $4 range, for some homeowners it's not enough. They are now trying to use as little propane as possible.

"We're on a fixed income, it changed everything," said Ann Phyllis, a Mason County resident.

Phyllis and her husband stopped using everything propane powered in their home, except their water heater.

"I do dishes by hand, the dryer, we went and bought two clothes dryers like you used to use, the wooden ones," she said. "We have a pellet burner as an alternative heat source."

They say their new way of life won't change until the weather or the price of propane does.