Consumers in York County and across the country can expect to see higher propane costs — if they can buy any propane at all.
A harsh winter full of snow and plummeting temperatures has created a high demand for propane and other forms of energy.
"Propane prices are skyrocketing," said Gregg Falberg, president of Chicago-based Anthem Propane which operates a large distribution facility in Manchester.
While some utilities, such as electricity and natural gas, have their rates locked in by approvals from public utility commissions, the cost of propane is regulated by the market.
Residential propane prices in Pennsylvania climbed from $3.19 a gallon on Dec. 13 to $3.34 a gallon on Jan. 13, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
That's 68 cents more a gallon than this time last year.
To the average residential customer, it could mean an extra $100 on the heating bill, analysts said.
A shorter supply is driving up costs, Falberg said.
Industry analysts said propane stockpiles were already low going into winter because of a wet fall.
Farmers had to burn more propane to dry their crops at harvest, leaving less fuel for winter heat, they said.
Then an arctic chill moved across the Midwest, yielding record-low temperatures and dumping feet of snow.
"It's created a situation we haven't seen in a long time. National supplies of propane are falling very fast," Falberg said.
His company mostly serves industrial customers, but also sells to residential customers within a 50-mile radius of York.
Though Anthem is still well-stocked, he said some dealers are having trouble getting propane.
"Unlike natural gas and oil, you can't pull more propane out of the ground," Falberg said.
The increased demand has certainly increased spot prices in the marketplace, but there aren't dramatic increases locally, said Bob Astor, spokesman for York-based wholesaler Shipley Energy. "There's a little upward pressure," he said.
It serves as a good reminder for customers to take advantage of price protection in contracts, which creates a cap to keep prices from increasing beyond a certain amount, Astor said.
"For folks who call around looking for pricing, they're going to see the biggest increases," he said.
"We tend to take care of the loyal customers first," he said.
While that helps consumers with pricing, it won't help with supply.
"People will really have to conserve to keep energy bills down and maintain supply," Falberg said.
The biggest challenge is time.
"It's only January. Unless we have an 80-degree February, it's going to be a struggle the rest of the winter," he said.
—Reach Candy Woodall at firstname.lastname@example.org.