Natural gas prices in Montana are higher than last year, while propane prices have truly skyrocketed during the cold spell in early February.
Propane costing less than $2 per gallon last year cost more than $5 per gallon in some areas during the cold snap earlier this month. The price change was so extreme that Gov. Steve Bullock authorized a one-time, 25-percent increase in subsidies for Low-Income Energy Assistance Program households using propane.
Some large users buy on contract and are protected from short-term price spikes. But Shepherd School superintendent Dan Jamieson personally felt the propane price spike when filling his family’s 500-gallon tank.
“I live out in Shepherd and this is the most I’ve ever paid,” he said. “We paid almost $3 a gallon at the beginning of the month.”
Local propane prices have been under $2 for the last seven years, Jamieson said.
“If we filled the whole tank, it’s $1,500. That’s quite a bit of money,” he said.
The schools are arguably the largest consumer of propane in Shepherd.
The elementary school is heated by a ground source system, but the middle school, high school, district offices and various shops count on propane to heat almost 80,000 square feet.
Because the district signed a contract last spring, it still is paying well under $2 per gallon, Jamieson said.
The superintendent wants to delay renegotiating another propane contract until April or May to allow time for the recent price spikes to melt a bit with the arrival of spring.
“I’m sure we’ll be paying more than we pay now,” he said.