The Town Crier’s reporting of propane prices and policies of the six companies that serve the Hill began after reader inquiries. Readers said they often did not understand how prices were set and how they varied from company to company.
Beginning Jan. 28, and continuing thereafter every two to three weeks, we queried local providers about pricing – first fill versus subsequent fills, tank rental versus tank ownership and other variables that affect pricing, as well as general company policies.
Four companies, onenational company (Amerigas) and three local or regional companies (AC Propane, Diamond Valley Propane and SoCal Propane) continue to cooperate and report pricing and other information to the Town Crier. Two (Suburban and Ferrellgas) have stopped doing so.
Suburban’s local manager in Idyllwild referred our inquiries to Peter Teshima, assistant vice president of marketing, at Suburban’s corporate headquarters in Whippany, New Jersey. The Idyllwild office manager said his office would no longer report pricing to the press. Teshima, at corporate headquarters, has not returned calls after repeated inquiries.
Ferrellgas’ local manager Brandy stressed that many factors influence pricing making it difficult to quote prices. She mentioned variables that could affect pricing at Ferrellgas such as membership in homeowners’ associations, amounts of propane used per year and other factors. While she did report Ferrellgas’ first fill price had fallen to $1.69 per gallon (from a Jan. 22 price of $1.74), she later said she could not quote other prices or policies and would forward our inquiries to Ferrellgas Director of Operations, Terry McGuire.
Shortly after that conversation, a male Ferrellgas representative left a message with our front office manager stating there would be no further reporting to the press of company pricing or policies and that the Town Crier would be receiving a letter from Ferrellgas’ legal department.
In contrast, national company Amerigas, both at regional (Temecula) and national offices (King of Prussia, Pennsylvania) has stated its company’s willingness to provide the information Idyllwild readers have been seeking. The three regional companies also comply by readily supplying information.
Propane prices and policies are not government regulated in the ways public utilities are. They are market responsive. Competition as well as customer loyalty and satisfaction are elements in companies’ setting propane pricing and policy. Propane is priced at points of production (wholesale) and then at points of delivery (retail). Transportation and delivery costs are factors that help determine retail pricing.
As overview, propane “spot” prices at points of production can change daily and are generally reported weekly. For example, for the week of March 7, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported national average wholesale propane prices at 50.9 cents per gallon and retail prices at $2.021.
Locally and nationally, propane prices have fallen slightly from those last reported in our edition of Feb. 28. The good news continues to be that in the West, propane delivery prices for the week of March 7 are generally lower than in five of the seven regions monitored. Only the Midwest shows lower pricing than the western region. Highest per gallon prices are in New England at $2.799. Lowest are in the Midwest at $1.42. Average for the West is $1.855.
Companies reporting prices this week include Amerigas at $1.99 per gallon community pricing, Diamond Valley at $1.93 and $1.73 for customer owned tanks, SoCal at $2.03 per gallon and $1.73 for customer owned tanks, and AC Propane at $1.79 for first fill and subsequent fills vary.
In comparing companies, questions include: price for first fill, subsequent fills, and any per gallon discounts based on memberships in associations, amount of propane used on average (using more often results in a per gallon discount), and whether the provider is filling a tank rented from the company or one owned by the customer (propane for owned tanks is generally 20 cents less than for rented tanks.)
Other questions include tank rental fees, costs if any of removing a tank when changing providers, and company policy if you run out of propane. As each company will explain, they use many factors in determining propane pricing and policy.
In general, propane pricing seems to be holding steady throughout the periods for which we have been reporting. We will survey again in two to three weeks.