Vermonters voice concerns over propane prices - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermonters voice concerns over propane prices

Montpelier, Vermont - March 30, 2011

Carrie Baker used to love heating her home with propane.

"Initially-- 20 years ago-- it was the way to go," Baker said.

But now she's looking for a change-- and to put more change in her pockets.

"I had heard from other folks that had used propane and they were getting a much more reduced rate," Baker said.

Baker wants to change propane companies to try to get a lower rate. But that's not as easy as it sounds. That's why lawmakers are considering more regulations on the sale of propane in Vermont and other issues surrounding the fuel.

About 15 percent of Vermonters use propane to heat their homes.

Some consumers say the problems with propane include:

*Minimum usage fees

*Termination fees

*Refunds are not timely

*Consumers can't buy their own tanks; they're forced to use the provider's tanks and those equipment charges are billed separately

"I thought it was very important for us to understand the issues and market that's out there and go from there," said Rep. Bill Botsow, chair of the commerce and economic development committee.

"Propane, when there is a leak or there is an accident, can be very dangerous even fatal and its important when the leg considers all these regulations that we in the name of competition we don't harm the safety of homeowners that use propane today" said Matt Cota, the executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

Problems with propane have spiked in the recent months. The attorney general's office says they've had a huge increase in complaints from propane customers, including the issue of the rented tanks.

"Consumers may be able to switch companies more readily and spend less on propane if they own their own tank," said Wendy Morgan, the assistant attorney general.

But safety concerns may outweigh the savings.

"The best way to ensure the safety of users is for the propane company to be responsible for not only maintaining the tank to ensure it's safe for homeowners" Cota said.

But Baker says as a consumer she should have the option.

"If we owned it we could do whatever wanted which would be nice," she said.

The committee says the next step is to hear more from consumers and public safety personnel. Lawmakers want to make sure people aren't pigeonholed into one provider because if they're trapped with one dealer it could allow for price gauging and less competition in the market. But they say safety will play a huge role in their decision making.

Gina Bullard - WCAX News

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