Propane prices bite

2014-02-23T00:00:00Z 2014-02-24T08:18:04Z Propane prices biteBy JAN FALSTAD The Billings Gazette

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.

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