ALBANY — State officials are taking emergency actions as complaints flood into their offices from people who are having trouble getting companies to deliver heating propane in the midst of extreme cold weather the state faced this month.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced the start of an investigation into possible misconduct on the part of propane companies after his office received several complaints of major delays in delivery, possible price gouging, and other issues.
“No New Yorker should have to sit in a freezing home or office this winter. But in recent days, my office has been flooded with calls from New Yorkers across the state who’ve experienced extreme delivery delays and possible price gouging by their local propane supplier,” Schneiderman said. “New Yorkers depend on timely, affordable deliveries of gas or oil to heat their home. After my office stepped in, we were able to help a number of New Yorkers get their heat back on – but it’s clear that there were systemic failures that left far too many sitting in the cold for far too long.”
People called Schneiderman’s office complaining that they called for days and did not receive a timely response or never received a response, as well as having to pay higher weekend delivery fees after calling all week.
People also complained about extreme rate changes and steep prices, as well as delivery companies forcing potential customers to buy their own tanks by refusing to deliver to people who have another company’s tank.
“I will not allow any business to exploit a weather emergency and leave New Yorkers in the cold. That’s why I’m launching an investigation into possible misconduct by propane suppliers across the state, and will not hesitate to take action on behalf of consumers when necessary,” Schneiderman said. “Any New Yorker that believes they may have been the victim of price gouging or other misconduct by a propane provide should contact my office right away.”
New Yorkers can contact the Attorney General’s hotline at 518-776-2000, or file a complaint on his website.
Propane users may not be the only people with complications getting heating fuel.
Charles and Cora Wolff, of Catskill, have had a contract with automatic delivery for heating oil with Kosco in Kingston for 28 years, but they haven’t been able to get a delivery since they ran out of oil Jan. 3.
“This is ridiculous. I am almost 80 years old,” Charles said. “They say they are completely overwhelmed. We were told we are on the list.”
Charles said he has a kerosene heater in his basement to keep their pipes from freezing and a space heater in the living areas of the house.
He said in 28 years he has never had this problem with Kosco before.
“All of a sudden I can’t get heating oil,” Charles said. “We called them on Sunday and they said they would get to us that night. We called them today and they said they would get here within two days. I have $1,000 with them.”
Charles said he tried other oil companies but was told they were not taking on any new customers at this time.
“It’s not like they didn’t know this cold weather was coming. It is winter and they are an oil company,” Charles said. “Maybe they can’t get any fuel themselves; I don’t know.”
Vincenzo Nicosia, a spokesman for State Sen. George Amedore Jr., R-46, said the senator’s office did not receive complaints from residents regarding difficulty getting propane deliveries.
“We’re aware of the issue and we are looking into how we can help,” Nicosia said.
Nolan Bottled Gas, Inc., based in Revena, said they are not having difficulty meeting the demand for propane, but refused to participate in an interview.
State legislators are also taking action, with a new bill being introduced by an assemblyman from Schenectady that would allow homeowners leasing propane tanks to also choose from multiple suppliers for emergency deliveries during times of urgent need and periods of high demand. The bill would only require the use of a licensed liquefied petroleum gas supplier, and an LPG container that meets all safety requirements and has all required inspections and certifications complete and up to date. According to state law, an LPG tank must be inspected 12 years after it is manufactured and then every five years after that.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-111, who is a member of the Assembly’s Energy Committee, said his office has also received many complaints from residents who said they were having difficulty getting propane delivered.
“This is an issue that must be taken very seriously and with these dangerously cold temperatures it’s my top priority,” Santabarbara said. “If you heat your home with propane, lease your tanks and are still waiting for a delivery, I want to hear from you,”