Propane customers feel gouged by company

Some customers under a fixed-price agreement now complain their supplier is overcharging.
Some customers under a fixed-price agreement now complain their supplier is overcharging.

MORGAN COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - A propane gas company is under the microscope after customers said they are not following through on signed contracts. Families across the state are left to find propane from another source or pay up to three times the amount for the same product.

The company is Golden Propane out of Cullman, a branch of United Propane Gas based out of Kentucky. Like most propane companies around the country, they ran into a shortage. The problem is some say this company is telling them one thing and doing another.

Jim Newman said his current propane level is 11% and creeping lower every day. Usually a quick call to the propane company could fix that, but not recently. He said he was told his "locked-in" price of less than two dollars was not going to happen.

"He said, 'Well, that doesn't matter; we don't abide by those agreements when the price goes up like it has,'" said Newman. He said he was told they could fill his tank, but for double the normal price. He said he can't help but feel price-gouged.

Newman said he reached out to company headquarters in Kentucky, but could not get through to anyone.

We spoke to Eric Gibson with United Propane & Gas over the phone, who said pricing concerns come second. "If they need gas, that is our primary focus right now, to get them gas delivered. If there is a pricing issue, and they are entitled to another price than what prints out on that ticket, then we will address that," he said, saying customers would get a credit back on their account when the crisis is over.

When asked why prices are so high to begin with, Gibson said, "Basically, the gas we are able to buy and get on the current market, obviously, we have to pay more for that."

Gibson said the company cannot guarantee a quick delivery, but they will get residential customers what they need as quick as possible.

Still, Newman said he isn't holding his breath, and said he won't be back for more anytime soon. "They've lost me as a customer," he said.

Residential customers are not the only ones experiencing trouble. The Morgan County School District is having problems too. They said they had a signed agreement with Golden Propane, but when the school started to run out, the company told them they couldn't deliver.

When Union Hill School needed a refill, maintenance engineer Hank Summerford said parent company Union Propane couldn't deliver. "We want to keep our children warm. That is our main objective here," Summerford said.

Tuesday in Kentucky, Attorney General Jack Conway filed a complaint (PDF) in circuit court against this company. They claim United Propane & Gas is violating the state's Consumer Protection Act by not allowing customers to fill up their tanks with other companies in a time of need. A judge signed an order now allowing it.

"We did oppose that, but the court went ahead and granted that," said Gibson. "That is in effect until February 3, but we fully intend to respond to the complaint itself and vigorously defend it."

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