Propane - Shame on you Inergy!

I know this isn't a typical post for me, but I guess with me not much is typical. The last couple of weeks I've been spending a lot of time researching and learning about propane. Propane is something I never really thought about before because I never really used it - except, maybe, once in a great while for the gas grill rusting in my backyard.

However, as I said, it's now a topic I have been spending my nights researching on the Net. The reason for this is because of a phone call I received a couple of weeks ago - the person on the other end of the phone told me that a company here in my area was about to charge $3.14 a gallon for propane, while all the others were running around $1.80 for a gallon. They explained that many people don't realize what was happening, and just how wrong they thought it all was.

That call came in on a Tuesday morning, the week between Christmas and New Year's....a typically very slow news week, and one where at the paper (The Messenger of Juneau County)  we tend to hunt out articles of interest - After I hung up the phone I decided to make a few calls to area propane suppliers to get a feel for the going rates....I had no idea where that call was about to take me, and just what kind of impact the article in the making was about to have on our little community.

I was able to get rates from most of the area propane suppliers...I say most because there was one where it felt like I needed to have the secret password and offer up my DNA before I could receive an answer to my question...a question that was pretty damn basic.."What is the price for existing customers for L.P.?"

That one company, Tru Gas, just also happened to be the company that caller had been complaining about.

It was like I had flipped on a light switch when I asked that question, and the roaches went fleeing.....enough to spark my interest in digging in more................

Silence is sometimes more telling than any answer that could be provided....

Time for the shovel and flashlight to come out......time to dig into research....

I found out that the Tru Gas in my community was no different than the other's across Wisconsin in charging a much higher price than competitors.  I discovered this when I had other people call in and pretend to be existing customers asking for a rate....at which time they were told $2.99 a gallon...well over a dollar more than competitors ...


Now if you are clueless like I was before I started down this venture you might be saying to yourself that people should just go elsewhere....well, it's not as easy as that as many people don't realize they can go elsewhere when the tank sitting on their property is a lease and owned by Tru Gas...or Inergy...or any other company for that matter. Yes, people have that option to go elsewhere....or to purchase their own tank...but unless they are informed of that, they just don't know. 

Sad, no? Now think about just who are the consumers of propane....people in the rural areas. Some of the hardest financially hit areas....where poverty is common and has been before the recession.  Where there are more elderly than young....where winter and not having heat means more than just being cold, it could mean you DIE! 


Tru Gas, I also found out, is part of a much larger corporation....Inergy Propane who is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. And, is a corporation that has seen it's share of allegations such as "price gouging" before and in recent years.

In 2008 Michigan's Attorney General took an action against Inergy Propane for this very thing:

From the Attorney General's website in Michigan:


March 4, 2008
            LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced today that he is taking legal action under Michigan's Consumer Protection Act against Inergy Propane for its excessive pricing of propane gas. The action is being taken after numerous complaints from consumers alleging Inergy Propane charged excessively high prices compared to the average market price of propane in Michigan. Inergy Propane has a number of retail facilities in Michigan, which operate under "regional brand names," including Blue Flame Gas, Gaylord Gas, Lagasco Propane, McBride Oil & Propane, Northwest Propane, Northwest Energy, Petoskey Propane and Progas Propane.


Inergy settled a month later offering refunds and credits....they also claimed no wrong doings...

But that wasn't the only thing I found on this topic......here are some other links........

March 9, 2010 - An article from Virginia as appears on the WDBJ website


"Many tell us contracts and tank removal is keeping them from paying a better price per gallon.
"When I saw how much it really was, I was outraged," says Shawsville resident Janice Franklin.Janice Franklin's two 80 gallon propane tanks were filled by Valley Propane a week ago.She was charged $4.65 a gallon.Franklin says Valley Propane gave no explanation for their increased prices and told her she could split the $800 payment into thirds."

Further on in the article,....



"Again, repeated calls to Valley Propane and their parent company Inergy have not been returned.
We've also received reports of high prices at Highland Propane in Roanoke. Inergy also owns them."


Then in Connecticut I found that their Department of Commerce did an investigation into complaints they had received regarding propane suppliers...a total of 93 complaints in the time period starting in November of 2007 and ending in February of 2009 - Of those 93 complains, 33 were against Inergy Propane...they took the lead with the company coming in behind them, Amerigas,  having just 13...and then the rest were pretty much a scattering of complaints against other smaller companies  - The main issue raised in the complaints..? Well, I bet you've already have guessed....prices!


You can access that in depth report ---.>here

I'm sure that if you wanted and did your own research you would find even more instances of claims and complaints against this company.......

Much like I did after that first article ran.......

The calls...
The emails....
The comments....

From residents in our community here in Juneau County was almost overwhelming...story after story and all of them the same thing.

Now, while the articles I've written appear here in our newspaper, I couldn't help but to think that more people need to realize what's going on, especially since this isn't just a local situation with this company - it appears to be the same story over and over and over in most of their locations.  That is why I am posting this information on this blog - in my research I wasn't able to find someplace that contained many stories in one place, but rather one story of the same topic matter on the same company just different consumers...all over the place.

Now, I don't have the answers on how to solve this...but I do know I have no use for a corporation that takes advantage of it's customers so the payoff to stockholders is greater....stockholders including their own Cheif Executive Officer and President - John Sherman - Who ....according to Forbes.....:...well, take a look for yourself and click the link (must be nice, huh? Bet he sits in a nice warm home every winter! Can't you just picture it?!?!)   He must know a great investment when he sees it because he tends to invest quite a bit into Inergy Propane....take a lookie.------> here -

All I can say at this point is....if YOU ARE A CUSTOMER AND UNHAPPY WITH PRICES....FEEL AS IF YOU ARE BEING GOUGED....Then...COMPLAIN!! I would say that to anyone....you should advocate for yourself, and by doing so change the future for the better for someone else!!!

In Wisconsin complaints can be submitted to:

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is one place to start.  Consumers can visit their website for more information on the process, including downloading and printing out a form. Their website address is http://datcp.wi.gov/ or you can also contact them on their Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-422-7128.

The Better Business Bureau is another option for filing complaints. In Wisconsin you can file a complaint with them on their website at http://wisconsin.bbb.org/ or by phone at  (800) 273-1002.




Comments

Anonymous said…
I work for an Inergy company in Michigan, and I do have to agree with everything you said. We are constantly having to increase our prices to our customers, and it kills me. I know what the economy is like in Michigan, and I know these people can't afford the going rate of $2.999 per gallon! Thank goodness I have natural gas, because I couldn't afford to have propane. When I ask why we need to increase the pricing all the time, the answer I get from the V.P. is "Well, we have stock holders, and these smaller company's don't". So, you propane customers doing business with a large propane supplier can take comfort in the fact that your pricing is higher because we have stock holders. God forbid they lose a little money!! One more thing, we sent out "lock in, prebuy, and budget paperwork" during the summer months. The pricing to take advantage of these options ranged from $9.95, $39.95, and $49.95. Well, people paid the fees to hold a price for the heating season, and during Nov and Dec, we raised all of the customers pricing a dime or more. The response when asked how crappy this was, was "Well, it's on the contract. People should read the fine print." Isn't that comforting??
Eva Marie said…
Thank you for your comment- Please know while much of what you said, I have found others speak of, I would like to check into some of this. I WOULD LOVE to see one of those "contracts" and the fine print - if you can...mail a scan or pic to

chewedupspatout@gmail.com

Your identity will remain Anonymous
Smoky Pond said…
I just ran across your article and felt that I had to chime in. I ran into the same situation several years ago with an Inergy company, Northwest Energy, here in north Oakland County, MI. They filled my tank (nearly 400 gallons) and charged me $2.79 per gallon plus tax. That was an increase of $0.90 per gallon since my last fill-up less than a month prior. Curious, I called some of my neighbors and found the going rate to be $1.55 to $1.79 per gallon, AND ONE OF THEM WAS A NORTHWEST CUSTOMER that had their tank filled the day before. I contacted Northwest and asked for an explanation, telling them about my neighbor. They claimed that it was because I hadn't "locked in" my rate, and that he had. Hmmmm. I called my neighbor and he didn't know anything about it. I then called Northwest again, asked for a manager and let him know that if he didn't have a good explanation, my next call would be to the Michigan Attorney Generals office. He started with the "locked in" rate explanation, but he would make an "exception" in my case. For a fee of $50, I could have the locked in rate of $1.99 per gallon, and he would apply it to my last fill up. I told him I would take it, but let him know that in my book, he was part of a what appeared to be a criminal organization. I switched companies 3 weeks later. They are a local family owned business. Their price? $1.52 per gallon! I've been with them for 5 years now.

Matt Kroll
Smoky Pond Farm
Oakland Township, MI
Mikkii said…
We just ran into an issue here in MI with Progas Propane. We have had them for over 2 years (they were here when we moved here so we continued on). We have always paid ahead so our fills were paid for in full. We called in our last fill and it was $220 higher than we had ever paid. I explained that I had to call around. They could of cared less. I found a local company that is a $1 everyday cheaper than Progas and because I was a "new" customer got it for $1.89 per gallon (first fill only) instead of the $3.39 per gallon ProGas quoted me (after my first fill we will be locked in at $2.39 a gal). I called Progas back spoke to Jane whom told me there were sorry to see me go of course but to call when the Propane level reached 20% to have it switched out. Which I did. I now find out their going to charge me $180 (basically that 20% of propane) as a restocking and pickup fee. How convenient for them isn't it that they still get to keep $200 almost worth of my product that I paid for? Of course they deny that it was ever said but I wrote it down word for word and kept checking it to make sure I was where they said to be at. They then took it upon themselves to bad mouth the provider I did go with - which to me shows me their true professionalism - THERE IS NONE! I will be glad to wipe my hands of them. Oh and as an FYI when I cancelled service I had a credit of $360 which they said they would refund me. I got $324 back (of course they had fees) and it took them almost 65 days to send me the check. RIDICULOUS
Anonymous said…
is there anything that can be done? contacting a local paper to bring awareness? The same goes for the propane companies associated with Inergy here in the Upper peninsula of Michigan. The prices keep soaring and their competitors are sooooooomuch less per gallon, and they are all getting it from the same plant just down the road. when asked why their are so high, they have a comback of dancing around the subject and then try to jam some coupons that I have to buy down my throught to lower their pricing. Does that make sense? buy coupons to lower my price per gallon? that is insaine. Their thinking I'm sure is rob the ones that won't complain while the other smarter ones go to the competitor down the road and save a ton of money. Why line their pockets with our money. I want to know who we can stir the pot up with these price gouging hounds? It has to be hard on the elderly out ther on limited incomes.I hope you can get someones attention before another heating season beginns.
Anonymous said…
Everything said on this forum is true. My husband worked for a branch of this company and went to work one day to be told he was "laid off" while the paperwork said "terminated" after over 20 years with the company. Their excuse was that they just bought another company and needed to be sure they made it profitable to show they had "made a good move" in buying this commpany and were therefore closing the branch he worked at. Which by the way, they bought 6 years ago and it was very profitable at the time of Inergy's purchase. Their focus was making a "new" company profitable rather than focusing on the company that was losing customers because of high prices. Inergy Propane by whatever name you call it, has higher prices because of the "stockholders" that have to be kept happy. This corporation buys up smaller companies, takes what they can get out of them, buys another company and shuts the doors on the previous company. Trust me on this, my husband is applying for unemployment from this company today after over 20 years of service
Joan said…
Live Oak Gas had a special for October. The receptionist and the guy that delivered said the gas was $3.599 a gallon. This was on 10/25/11. We received our bill on 11/5/11 qnd they had charged $619.98 instead of $378.25. The best I can figure $5.989 agallon. Quite a bit of difference from the $3.599. They usually tell me that if I will call the Farmers Coop they will let us have it at their price.
Anonymous said…
This is the most screwed up company. They just had a huge gas explosion in the Munising Michigan area and it was covered ever so nicely by their "safety director" and all involved. check the news reports saying it was a controlled burn.. my ass, I was next door and it was a huge mistake, done by peoploe who were not, I repeat Not emplyees.. they were a bunch of redneck looking guys that were blowing off the gas in town and emptying the tank and removing them with a beat up not professional truck / trailer. One guy told my room mate he was there to get money for these tanks that he was hauling without the "higher ups knowing". anyway he they let teh hose fall off a tank and it exploded, someone was hurt again, I seen it from my window, and no reports were done on that just to hide it all. When will this company stop lying to all and fess up! If they aren't ripping people off they are endangering them! and those around them. Get a handle on it and tell the truth!
Anonymous said…
Just for the record, Inergy no longer deals in retail propane. All of their retail operations were sold to Suburban Propane in 2012.

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