hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

High Costs and Low Temps

Cold for days and days, it seems.  Not much but cold seems to happen when it is cold.  But this is the second week of the month when meetings are abundant, so one can go to meetings.  Ideally, in warm buildings, but not always the case.

Last night, I went to hear what the Park and Rec Board was doing to repair the Community Center.  Waiting for the seismic engineers' report on the seismic inspection, is mainly what they are doing.  And, as a result of the meeting and an excellent suggestion by Ron Hughes, considering whether it needs to hire a project manager to coordinate the various aspects of the Major Repair Program.  The initial idea was for one of the Commissioners (none of whom it would appear was particularly skilled or had relevant experience in this area) to complete the task for free.  One might think that having appropriately responsible coordination and oversight for a $250,000 project would be essential and that it would necessitate hiring someone to do it.  But not necessarily, apparently.  The Commissioners are thinking about it at this point, anyway, thanks to Mr. Hughes.

Tonight, we could choose between the Propane Meeting and the Community Advisory Committee Meeting.  I chose the former, because I kind of knew that the news at the latter would be minimal.  The propane meeting, by contrast, was a brand new topic and seemed to have considerable possibility for just being interesting.

Until I read about the meeting, I didn't even know there was a problem about propane.  We use it to heat the house and we like it a lot.  I Googled a bit and found that there has been a big surge in propane prices here and there throughout the country, but not everywhere in the country.  Some places it was in the range of $2/gallon, and in others it was $4-$6/gallon.  The midwest and the east coast were especially being hit with sudden spikes in price, but few stories about such spikes on the west coast.

So I went to the meeting with the knowledge that it wasn't just a local problem.  At the meeting, the impulse was largely to treat it as a local problem.  One of the two local suppliers was charging considerably more than the other.  Unfortunately, unless you own your own propane tank, you can't just switch from one supplier to another.  (How people expect market theory to work when there is a captive audience and no information and no effective form of competition is a mystery to me, but doubtless there are market supporters who would say well, we shouldn't have chosen to live in such an awkward location.)

Couple of things by way of information: According to Puget Sound Energy, when propane gets to be over $3/gallon, electricity is cheaper to use as heat.  (Electricity prices are quite stable.)  According to George Iddon, if you have a rented tank, your propane supplier charges an extra 10-20 cents for each gallon of propane you buy.  (Thus, he said, when you ask them what their price is for propane, they need to know first whether you own your own tank.)

Some of the dozen or so folks attending wanted to write a community letter to the more expensive of our propane suppliers to indicate their unhappiness at the pricing policy.  Again, Mr. Iddon reported that he had checked propane prices in Whatcom County, and that prices were generally in line with the cheaper of our two suppliers.

The U.S. Senate is talking about holding hearings on the problem nationwide and urging the FTC to look into the price spikes to determine whether there are market manipulations going on (as with the Enron scandal in electricity pricing some years ago).  So we could be contacting our U.S. Senators, as well.  Or, we could just watch the Olympics, I guess.  Or do some extra exercise to keep warm or, in honor of Jimmy Carter, put on another sweater..

Update: the national average price for propane this week is $3.75/gallon.

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