Monday, January 3, 2011

Disappearance of a local energy company

I haven't had a propane delivery in over two years. Steadily, my reliance on fossil fuels has been going down. There are a couple of propane stove burners and a clothes dryer left that still use the fuel. Most of my meals are cooked on locally harvested wood, so very little propane is used for cooking. The dryer is used rarely. When the propane runs out, it won't be replaced.

My dwindling propane supply may outlast the company who's name is on the tank. They find themselves in a situation where rising fuel prices have bumped up against a tightening of credit. They've lost their line of credit and can only replenish their supplies with cash on the barrel head. Since they have difficulty getting fuel, they've been unable to supply their customers in a timely fashion.

Of course, nobody wants to wait a week to get needed fuel. The local energy company is steadily losing customers, speeding up their death spiral. On a local level, I get to see the interdependence of the energy and financial system. The little guys who don't have financial clout are the first to go. My guess is that variations of this scenario is repeating across the country. Don't say no one warned you when it happens in your town.

I used to get heating oil from a different local company, which was based in one town. Later, it was bought out by a regional company that serviced a couple states. In turn, they were bought out by an International company. Expect to see more consolidation going forward -again, the combination of diminishing supplies combined with tightened finances.

Bigger, consolidated companies are tougher on their customers. It used to be a local company would keep delivering fuel through the winter, even if a customer fell behind on payments. Most people would catch up on their bills during the warm months. Now, if a payment is missed, delivery is cut off. The only way to get a new delivery is to agree to a payment plan for the old bill and to pay for the new delivery in advance.

Expect fewer and fewer companies supplying ever more expensive fossil fuel. Don't expect the government to bail you out. This year requirements for government fuel assistance were tightened and available assistance cut in half.

In the long run, that's the general trend. Do what you can to get by on a lot less fossil fuel, because unless you are quite wealthy, you are going to have to anyway.


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