Propane shortage issue heats up

Propane shortage issue heats up

Call increases for propane shortage fix, while university lists suggestions to help producers cope.

AS more U.S. states declare a state of emergency due to propane supply issues, many groups, public officials and even academia are working to ease a very serious, growing problem.

In a recent letter to the House Energy & Commerce Committee, House legislators asked the leadership to review the cause of the propane shortage to try to alleviate the problem. The letter, addressed to Reps. Fred Upton (R., Mich.) and Ed Whitfield (R., Ky.), was signed by nearly 40 members of Congress.

"As you may know, households and businesses across the Midwest have seen significant spikes in the price of propane fuels during the severe winter cold. Any further reduction in supply threatens to leave our constituents without the fuel necessary to heat their homes and to keep livestock and poultry barns warm," the legislators wrote.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has even asked farmers and others in his state with excess propane to return any unused propane to their suppliers.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster recently announced that his office is investigating the cause of the recent rise in the price of propane gas and will issue a report when the inquiry is completed. On Jan. 24, Koster received a request from state Sen. Mike Parson to conduct an investigation, and 40 consumers have filed complaints with the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division about the increased costs.

Consumers indicate that the price for propane gas increased from approximately $1.94/gal. in December 2013 to nearly $5.00/gal. in recent days.

 

Livestock

To help agriculture, specifically livestock producers, use propane more efficiently during the shortage, Purdue University recently released recommendations.

Farmers who rely on propane to heat livestock facilities can take steps to use the increasingly costly fuel more efficiently — and without making expensive capital investments, Purdue specialist Al Heber said.

According to Heber, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, the place to start for more efficient use of propane in barns is the thermostat.

"Lowering the temperature set point for heating might be a good first plan of attack because it is quick and effective if it can be reduced without creating unhealthy conditions for the animals or birds," he said. "Livestock and poultry producers need to judge animal comfort as they lower the temperature."

One way to gauge animal comfort in hogs, for example, is to observe whether they are huddling in groups for warmth. Heber said this behavior means the animals are too cold.

Another way to be more efficient with heating is to understand how animals tolerate temperature. For example, nursery hogs can tolerate a 10 degrees F drop in housing temperature at night.

Producers also need to monitor the heating and ventilation control systems in their facilities to make sure the winter fans aren't competing with the heaters. Ventilation fans with rates greater than what is required for humidity control function as a cooling system. If the ventilation system senses the air temperature getting too warm, it will draw in more cold air. If the heating system senses the air temperature getting too cold, however, it will continue putting out heat.

When the systems compete, they waste propane. Heber said care must be taken to keep this from happening.

"A failure to interlock the heater and the second stage of ventilation can cause a tremendous waste of propane," he said. "A quick audit of the barns should be conducted to make sure this isn't happening."

In this same vein, Heber said producers should assess whether the minimum winter airflow rate in the barn is much greater than the recommended minimum ventilation rate and can be safely decreased. The minimum ventilation rate refers to the base rate at which the system adequately controls humidity and ammonia at safe levels.

"Over-ventilating the building in cold weather will increase propane use to unnecessary levels," he said. "Over-ventilating by 10% can increase annual (liquid propane) consumption by 27%, according to research at Iowa State University."

Other ways for producers to use propane more efficiently involve building maintenance. Ventilation air inlets need to be properly maintained, and air leaks should be eliminated.

Producers can assess the efficiency of their facilities by having an on-farm energy audit, where professionals come out to the farm and suggest where facility improvements could be made. They also outline savings-to-investment ratios for implementing those improvements, whether it's as simple as caulking areas with air leaks or as extensive as adding heat exchangers.

 

Residential retail propane price ($/gal., excluding taxes)

 

Jan. 6

Jan. 13

Jan. 20

Jan. 27

Feb. 3

Indiana

2.806

2.849

2.939

4.215

4.265

Iowa

1.960

1.997

2.584

4.709

3.590

Kentucky

2.517

2.540

2.577

3.785

3.852

Michigan

2.532

2.575

2.638

3.611

3.766

Minnesota

2.322

2.330

2.439

4.610

3.967

Missouri

2.251

2.265

2.433

3.997

3.672

Nebraska

1.911

1.920

2.005

4.073

3.357

North Dakota

2.263

2.273

2.322

4.569

3.839

Ohio

2.890

2.950

2.999

3.731

3.908

South Dakota

2.065

2.081

2.088

4.107

3.664

Wisconsin

2.194

2.241

2.276

4.490

3.945

Source: Energy Information Administration.

 

Volume:86 Issue:07

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