Lodge criticism against Amerigas
For one 76-year-old Gunnison County resident and her 80-year-old husband, the cold temperatures last week were brutal—particularly when they awoke one night to discover that their propane gas was completely out.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, says she called the gas company only to be told that she had an overdue bill—one that she had never received. An operator told her that she’d have to pay the amount on the spot with a $100 emergency fee to have a gas delivery made that night.
The elderly couple are not the only people who have been left out in the cold—and stuck paying emergency fill fees.
During a Gunnison County commissioners meeting on Tuesday, January 22, City of Gunnison resident Peter Caloger said his 91-year-old mother was left without propane on December 27, when her tank ran completely dry in the middle of the night. When he contacted the propane company, the operator said the company’s computer had forecasted that his mother wouldn’t need a gas fill-up for several weeks.
Gunnison County’s sole propane gas provider is AmeriGas, after the company merged with its competitor AllStar in August 2007. AmeriGas Partners, L.P. is the nation’s largest retail propane marketer, serving nearly one million customers from sales and service locations in 46 states. It’s traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
The company uses an automatic delivery program, which forecasts customer usage so consumers don’t need to call for delivery. Unfortunately, the system does not appear to be working.
Gunnison County resident Michelle Zadra told the commissioners that AmeriGas had allowed her propane to run out three times—despite the fact that she had called the company to alert them that the gas gauge was running dangerously low. “We called (to tell them) that we were down to 3 percent and we ran out in the middle of the night,” Zadra says. “It’s 33 below and we had no gas… and they were mad that they had to come out to the tanks.”
Because it represents a public utility, propane gas is subject to regulation by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Caloger urged the county commissioners to take an active role in persuading the company to provide better service and to urge a second company to come into Gunnison County. He noted that county residents are paying substantially more for their gas service compared to neighboring counties, and residents are subjected to what he considers unfair service fees. “This company now owns every propane tank in the county,” he said.
Commissioner Paula Swenson said she knew of the issue after another elderly couple notified her that they had experienced a similar situation of being left without propane gas. Gunnison County sent a letter to AmeriGas last week and county manager Matthew Birnie said a company manager called on Tuesday, January 22. He said the company was concerned about the issue.
Commission chairman Hap Channell said the commissioners “will do whatever we can in terms of supporting the public on this problem.”
County resident Art Trezise said he has also had experienced problems with the company. “I didn’t run out but we came dangerously close,” he said, noting his gauge read 3 percent full. “I’ve definitely noticed a decline in the service from last winter to this winter,” he added.
The commissioners said they would write a letter to the Public Utilities Commission and urged citizens who are having similar problems to do the same. “It’s definitely the most effective thing you can do at this point,” Birnie said.
In an interview on Wednesday, January 23, AmeriGas vice president of field operations Randy Hannigan said there were several factors playing into the company falling behind in gas delivery. Specifically, he said the amount of snow and bad roads had slowed up deliveries, and the company’s recent merger with AllStar was problematic. “I do know that converting their delivery system with ours—we’ve had a few problems with that,” Hannigan said. “No company likes to admit that but when we made the conversion, some things didn’t convert properly. I think we’ve made some mistakes.”
In addition, he said there have been some problems securing propane from suppliers, however, those problems aren’t too significant.
To help address the problem, Hannigan says the company is bringing in more drivers from neighboring states. “We do have some additional help coming into the area to help deliver gas,” Hannigan says.