PROPANE SHORTAGE: Inside the hotline call center - KMSP-TV

PROPANE SHORTAGE: Inside the hotline call center

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  • PROPANE SHORTAGE: Hotline hours, peacetime emergency extended

    PROPANE SHORTAGE: Hotline hours, peacetime emergency extended

    Monday, February 3 2014 4:33 PM EST2014-02-03 21:33:17 GMT
    With hundreds of calls coming in daily, the State Emergency Operations Center is extending the propane hotline hours to include the weekend, and state leaders are extending a state of peacetime emergency.
    With hundreds of calls coming in daily, the State Emergency Operations Center is extending the propane hotline hours to include the weekend, and state leaders are extending a state of peacetime emergency.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

The phones keep ringing at Minnesota's propane hotline as people seek help with heating their homes amid a shortage that has caused prices to triple, and Fox 9 News got a look inside.


HOTLINE NUMBERS

Twin Cities metro: 651-297-1304
Greater Minnesota: 1-800-657-3504


Propane suppliers tell Fox 9 they believe the shortage will start getting better, but it's hard to say how quickly. Until then, state officials expect to keep picking up the phones between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. because people are still struggling to fill their tanks.

Inside the State Emergency Operations Center in St. Paul, the 8 to 10 operators that were pulled from other duties to man the propane shortage hotline are assisting those who are at risk of running out of home heating fuel and can't cover the cost of buying more. By mid-day on Monday, they had answered nearly 1,500 calls.

"They are calling about the high prices, they are calling about the fact they're running low," Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman explained. "In some instances, people are running out. So, we're keeping track of all that and trying to help as many as we can."

Rothman said state officials are also communicating with propane suppliers in real time so that when they get a call from someone who is running out, the state can put its own pressure on the suppliers to get the deliveries made.

As far as getting propane to distributors in Minnesota, Rothman says he has gotten the sense supply is improving.

"We understand from them that the supply is getting to terminals. Now, the industry has got to get the propane out of the terminals and into the homes," Rothman said. "In between, prices are going up and down and we're told it's a very volatile situation."

An estimated 250,000 homes in Minnesota rely on propane for heating, and this year's brutal cold has increased both use and demand -- and that's on top of the farmers who used propane to dry their crops and the construction companies who use quite a bit of it in the course of doing business.

One local distributor told Fox 9 News that several pipelines have agreed to start moving more propane to help ease the shortage; however, it remains unclear when the cost would come down as a result.

With temperatures still below daily averages and since there is no warm-up in sight, the call center is expected to stay busy referring people to local heating assistance programs.

"We'll go as long as we have to to help Minnesota," Rothman said.

For those who qualify for the state's Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, the crisis payments are rising from $500 to $1,000 -- but those who didn't qualify for help before won't now. The income levels haven't changed, and that has left a lot of people struggling to pay their bills and conserving until prices come down.

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