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Winter of discontent for some Skyline residents

Propane has been in short supply, Amerigas customers say.

This winter has been a particularly difficult one at times for some households in La Honda and the Woodside neighborhoods along the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The area does not have natural-gas service, and residents using propane to heat their homes and water have reported repeated shortages.

Of nine residents who emailed the Almanac about empty or nearly empty propane tanks this winter, all said they are, or were until recently, customers of Amerigas, a nationwide propane supplier based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

"Oh how I would love to let someone know the bull$:!& I went through! 29 calls?!" Joanne Joye wrote. "I waited over a month. Ran out twice and still would like a call from the regional manager."

Susan Stucky wrote about how it's "no fun ... sitting here in a 45-degree-to-50-degree house without hot water, with no cooking and a load of wet laundry."

After two weeks with her tank below 17 percent and being repeatedly assured of a refill, Cathy Whitney of La Honda said she changed propane suppliers. Amerigas refilled her tank anyway, to 85 percent, she said, despite her having informed Amerigas that she had changed suppliers. She had also attached a waterproof note to that effect to the tank, and her husband had told the driver in person of the change.

Refills have been an ongoing problem, Woodside resident Harriet Garfinkle said. "Every single time we've gotten low, I've had to phone a minimum of six times," she said. A refill requested for Thanksgiving 2015 never came, she said. "Oh my god, we're having 20 people over," she recalled thinking. "What will happen if we run out?"

Asked to comment on customer complaints from this area, Amerigas spokesperson Kate Stickel emailed a statement.

"AmeriGas is not experiencing any shortage in propane supply," she said. Demand rose by 88 percent, or 500,000 gallons, in December, but Amerigas has "more than enough supply to meet all customer needs," she said.

"AmeriGas has an advantage when one area of the country sees higher demand due to extreme cold or other weather; we can and have brought in additional resources from other areas of the country to meet local delivery needs," Ms. Stickel said. "This means additional drivers, service technicians, and customer service representatives to serve our customers. ... In addition, our emergency call center is available 24x7 to assist any customers who need off-hours assistance."

"Our crews are working to ensure all our customers get the propane fuel they need," she said. "We are now focusing our expanded resources on customers who need deliveries most urgently those with less than 15 percent in their tanks."

Five suppliers

Amerigas is one of five propane suppliers listed on the Skyline Propane Users Group website. The users group is an offshoot of the South Skyline Association, a community organization representing the interests of residents along Skyline Boulevard between Highway 92 and Los Gatos.

Members of the users group get a discount if they sign up with Amerigas, and about two-thirds of association members have, board member Ruth Waldhauer told the Almanac. "Recently, with the Amerigas staffing problems, complaints have flooded to me," Ms. Waldhauer said in an email.

In December, two other suppliers -- FerrellGas and Kamps Propane -- were offering propane right around the price quoted by Amerigas, according to the user's group website.

Switching propane suppliers is easy, Ms. Waldhauer said. The users group helps with the switch-over of tanks for a different supplier, and a table on the website shows that it can be done with minimal effect on propane prices. Because tank costs have "skyrocketed," and because the supplier maintains tanks, residents tend to rent them, Ms. Waldhauer said.

Competitive industry

About a dozen companies provide propane to the Bay Area, said Scott Brockelmeyer, a spokesperson for one of those companies, Ferrellgas Partners based in Overland Park, Kansas.

Propane gas is a byproduct of crude oil extraction, Mr. Brockelmeyer said, and includes extraction by fracking the hydraulic fracturing of subsurface rocks to create access to buried oil and gas. Propane is plentiful; supplies were at a 20-year high over the summer of 2015, Mr. Brockelmeyer said.

In the propane business, the principal challenge is competitive pressure, and the keys to success are the right number of truck drivers, the right number of trucks and the availability of bulk storage, he said.

Residential propane customers fall into two categories, Mr. Brockelmeyer said: resupply on demand and resupply based on customer use patterns and/or Wi-Fi monitoring.

"We're receiving a lot of calls" from the Skyline area, Mr. Brockelmeyer said.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Amerigas issues continue
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jan 24, 2016 at 2:05 pm

Amerigas' answer in the article is not appropriate. They answer like there is no problem.
They can't solve the problem if they don't admit there is one.
If they have everything in place like she says, people would not run out of gas regularly, it is their job to check the tanks on a regular basis, that must not be happening as so many people are running out of gas, we ran out today!!!
Any good propane company knows you need to check tanks more often when it is cold and when the power goes off often. Many houses up here have whole house generators so when the power goes off, they burn more propane than usual.
Good luck getting gas if there is a football game on.
They need more drivers/trucks if they have lots of gas and people are running out of gas.
Check my tank weekly, if you want my business! I'm out.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2016 at 3:33 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Here's a novel concept; perhaps those that have propane tanks take responsibility for THEMSELVES and check their propane levels THEMSELVES? That way they can make sure they order propane before they run out. I know people taking responsibility for themselves is a really strange concept to some people, but if they try it they might actually like it. Self reliance.


Like this comment
Posted by Coupon clipper
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Apr 9, 2016 at 8:39 am

Yo..... y'all wanted cheap gas.

Your choice. Next time don't go for the discount.


Like this comment
Posted by Wall o' gas
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 9, 2016 at 9:43 am

Great idea - go with the low bidder. Its only heat and hot water.


Like this comment
Posted by fwiw
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 9, 2016 at 7:24 pm

> take responsibility for THEMSELVES and check their propane levels THEMSELVES?

This portends a non-understanding of the contract agreement with Amerigas. In return for the bulk purchase discount, you agree to accept them keeping your tank filled at operating levels but at their timing. This give them the advantage of being able to deliver fuel at timing advantageous to them in terms of quantity, market and convenience of delivery. But surely if they are going to sign up to deliver the fuel at their timing, that does not abrogate THEIR responsibility to keep the tank going as they committed to when you signed with them.

It's not like their are a huge number of firms competing in this space, and after Amerigas merged with Northern Energy, they are certainly the largest. This past Winter there were many, many accounts of folks calling well in advance to "remind" Amerigas that they were down to their last 30% and that delivery was getting to be critical and still they ran completely out, necessitating a mandatory safety check before heaters and pilots could even be relit after protracted periods of begging for delivery. And for those with rental tanks, they were a captive audience who could not even turn to an alternate supplier.

I think if Amerigas is going to be in the business of having a program where THEY decide when to refill it is not unreasonable to expect a modicum of respect for the residents they have signed up to service.


Like this comment
Posted by Coupon clipper
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Apr 10, 2016 at 8:26 am

So.... You're saying Amerigas is too big to fail? Violated anti-trust when it merged? They forced you to use them? Free market buyer beware, needs regulation?

No locally owned company?

Or you just went for the discount price and service? And it burned you?

What ARE you telling us in your tale of woe?


12 people like this
Posted by contract
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 10, 2016 at 9:58 am

If Amerigas is violating their service contract, then sue them for breach of contract. Sounds like you have enough disgruntled customers to chip in for legal fees. If you signed a contract that provides less service than you expected, then who's fault is that?


8 people like this
Posted by Wall o' gas
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 10, 2016 at 10:58 am

"Amerigas is one of five propane suppliers listed on the Skyline Propane Users Group website. The users group is an offshoot of the South Skyline Association, a community organization"

Their coalition for community organizing failed in a basic tenet - when offered 5 alternatives, many went with the cheapest deal in a global vendor that could care less.

Most community organizations recognize the value in local control and support. Sort of like talking about supporting local, but then going past the local shops to get a cheaper product 10 miles away at Walmart.

Takes ten seconds to find the corporate owner: "UGI International primarily serves the propane markets of 16 Western and Central European countries"

another 10 seconds to find the THOUSANDS of complaints against Amerigas: Web Link

Hope they didn't spend all the money they saved in one place. Take the loot you saved to hire a lawyer.


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