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News State / Region AG Cooper urges propane dealers to play fair

Amidst the onslaught of low temperatures that have impacted lives here in Western North Carolina, another assault threatens to take hold throughout the state with the rising prices of propane.

According to data obtained from the United States Energy Information Administration the price of propane on Dec. 2, 2013, was on average, just under $3 per gallon. In two months, that price has grown to $4 per gallon, just in time for the latest winter storm. Since the sale of propane isn't monitored by the N.C. Utilities Commission like other forms of energy, distributors are able to set the price however they may see fit.

In response to this practice, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has come out in opposition to the practice of price gouging — or increasing the price because of high demand as a result of a disaster.

“I'm concerned that North Carolinians who rely on propane for heat are struggling to keep their homes warm during an especially cold winter,” said Cooper. “While it's understandable that cold temperatures have increased the demand for propane and reduced its supply, we're monitoring this closely to see if anything is artificially inflating consumers' heating costs.”

Cooper is encouraging those who may use propane to consider a few useful tips to avoid being taken advantage of by price gougers:

  • Conserve propane by lowering the thermostat, cutting down on hot water usage and limiting cooking times.
  • Use alternative heating sources, such as fireplaces or electric space heaters.
  • Own propane tanks rather than rent them. Homeowners who own their tanks can shop around for the best prices, while those who rent a tank from a propane company are typically prohibited from buying propane from any other provider.
  • Consider a long-term contract in order to lock in a specific price for propane over a set period.
  • Shop around for a propane dealer that offers the best price and service, and consider all costs and fees, not just low introductory rates that will likely rise sharply later.

In N.C., it is against the law to engage in price gouging during a state of emergency which was the case during the storm that struck the area last week.

“It's wrong to use a crisis as an excuse to make an unfair buck,” said Cooper. “Most businesses pull together to help their community when bad weather hits, but if someone is using this storm to try to rip you off, we want to know about it.”

Cooper is encouraging consumers to report potential price gouging to his Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or file a complaint at http://www.ncdoj.gov/.


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