ALBANY — State officials are taking emergency action as complaints flooded into their offices from people who are having issues with companies delivering heating propane in the midst of extreme cold weather the state faced last week.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the start of an investigation into possible misconduct by propane companies Tuesday 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 have 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 there were systemic failures that left far too many sitting in the cold for far too long.”
Propane customers called Schneiderman’s office complaining that they called for days and did not receive a timely response, or never received one at all, as well as having to pay higher weekend delivery fees after calling all week.
Callers 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 a tank from another company.
“I will not allow any business to exploit a weather emergency and leave New Yorkers in the cold,” Schneiderman said. “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.
“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.”
To file a complaint, contact the attorney general’s hotline at 518-776-2000, or visit ag.ny.gov.
“We’re in great shape — we have 240,000 gallons in store,” said Richard Coon, owner of First Fuel and Propane based in Hudson. “The problems are more up north than here locally.”
First Fuel’s demand for refills more than doubled in the first week in January compared to the demand the same time last year, but one-third of those refills are for other companies’ customers, Coon said. His company makes deliveries as far north as Lake George and the Adirondack region.
“We have been working hard to keep up,” Coon said. “We are open seven days a week and we’re open all weekend,” Coon said.
Nolan Bottled Gas Inc., based in Ravena, said they are not having difficulty meeting the demand for propane, but declined to be interviewed. Nolan also has a business in Cairo.
Propane users in the Capital Region may not be the only people suffering from complications getting heating fuel.
Charles and Cora Wolff, of Catskill, have had a contract with automatic delivery for heating oil with Kosco, now known as Paraco Oil, in Kingston for 28 years, but said 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 pipes from freezing and a space heater in the living areas of the house.
In 28 years, Charles has never had this problem with the Kingston-based company before, he said.
“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 [Tuesday] and they said they would get here within two days. I have $1,000 with them.”
Charles 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.
Richard Stein, chief of staff for Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, said Barrett has not received complaints from constituents about issues getting propane delivered.
State legislators are also taking action, with a new bill being introduced by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-111, that would allow homeowners leasing propane tanks to 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.
An LPG tank must be inspected 12 years after it is manufactured and then every five years after that, according to state law.
Santabarbara, 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.”