- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota lawmakers may have reached the limit on what they can do to protect consumers from the propane shortages and price spikes seen this past winter.

The Legislature swiftly approved $20 million in emergency heating aid in February. There was talk then about doing more to address issues that led to the problem. But solutions have been elusive, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported (https://bit.ly/1oi4noK ).

The bill that’s gotten the most hearings would protect consumers, but wouldn’t do much to avoid shortages. Two other bills have made some progress, but one simply calls for a study and the other’s future is doubtful.

Meanwhile, a pipeline in Canada is due for conversion soon that will take away up to 40 percent of the propane used by Minnesotans, the Pioneer Press reported.

Roger Leider, executive director of the Minnesota Propane Association, said the industry has been preparing for the loss of the Cochin pipeline by increasing storage capacity and rail capability. He cited propane wholesaler CHS Inc.’s move to expand storage and rail handling capability in Rockville and more than doubling the size of its Glenwood facility.

And a terminal in Benson served by the pipeline is being converted to a rail facility, he said.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, a Farmington Republican and his party’s lead on the Energy Policy Committee, said officials have to beef up infrastructure. He supports trying to free up capacity in the rail system, in part by advocating for approval of the Keystone pipeline. Garofalo would also create incentives to boost storage and conversions from propane to natural gas.

“Now that it’s warming up, and propane prices have gone down, the public is under the misunderstanding that the problem has been solved, and it hasn’t,” he said.

The committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, is skeptical of the need for more storage and the wisdom of converting from propane to natural gas. Hortman said she worried about overbuilding storage. And she said switching to natural gas simply shifted from one delivered fuel to another.

Hortman touted spending money on weatherization to help the state save money on heating assistance for poor residents.

The bill getting the most attention at the Legislature this session would enact consumer protections related to price disclosure, payment plans, purchase contracts, nondiscrimination and other issues. But the chief sponsor of the House version of the bill last week rated its chances as slim.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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