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Propane Prices Jump Nationwide

Higher Prices Byproduct Of Souring Natural Gas Prices

ALPAUGH, Calif., 3:39 p.m. EST February 20, 2001 -- California's energy crisis is not only in electricity, but in high prices for natural gas and propane. Propane prices have jumped nationwide, but the hardest hit has been suffered in California, where propane prices have doubled in some cases to more than $2 per gallon.

The higher prices are a byproduct of soaring natural gas prices, which is also among the causes of high wholesale electricity prices demanded by natural gas power generators.

Rural residents have relied on propane to heat their homes, warm their water, cook and run appliances. It was clean, efficient and cheap.

Tethered to homes in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley like grazing animals, propane tanks are now sources of both heat and frustration.

Those living beyond the reach of natural gas lines, including poor agricultural area residents and the leisure class in mountain chalets, are absorbing much higher costs for essential fuel.

In the Central Valley near Alpaugh, retired electrician Harry Parson has to ration his money. At age 68, Parson pays for heart medication and is trying to upgrade to a doublewide trailer, and he pays for feed for his menagerie of ducks, rabbits, sheep, dogs, cats and "3-foot long" fish in his homemade pond.

The additional cost of propane, up from $1.20 last fall to a peak of $2.35, has brought about some life changes. Parson keeps his power off during the day, except to run his refrigerator. He fires up the heat for only a few hours at night before crawling under a pile of blankets.

The district manager for Pioneer Propane in Madera, Danny Martinez, said that one irate customer accustomed to paying no more than $150 per month wrote a check for $250 recently. On the check the customer scrawled -- "The price for freezing."

Martinez said that the customer was keeping his house cold but still paying an extra $100 per month.

Propane prices began to dip somewhat last month as a result of warmer temperatures, and increased supply, but many customers still feel they're paying exorbitant bills.

-- Martin Thompson (, February 20, 2001

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