Ray Ward had to make a choice this winter; heat his home or put a little money into RRSPs. Heat won.
The Petrolia area man has a modest home on a gravel road. He has few options for heat since natural gas lines don’t come down his road. So Ward heats his home with propane.
He knows he’ll always pay more for propane than his neighbours’ pay for natural gas, but usually that’s okay.
But this winter the price of propane has skyrocketed due to heavy agricultural demand in the US. Since November, the price of propane has jumped from 96 cents per liter to 1.79 cents per liter.
When the price started to climb, the propane deliveryman left the bill in his mailbox at the road. Ward was shocked when he looked at it. “It’s horrible,” he said while sitting in his shop before a cracking fire in his woodstove.
This winter’s bitter cold has made things worse; Ward has had to refill his propane tank – at about $800 per fill – twice since November and will likely need another fill before the warm weather sets in. Normally in the winter, he has two fill ups.
“I work part-time to put a little at a time into RRSPs,” says Ward. “This year the money didn’t go to RRSPs, all the savings went into the heat.”
Ward is not alone. Propane users across Canada have been feeling the pinch and natural gas utilities are noticing.
Union Gas has been working behind the scenes trying to convince the provincial government to help with the capital cost of bringing natural gas to some of the more rural areas of the province. And recently, it has been asking municipalities to put pressure on the province to invest in the project.
“We believe this can be an economic enabler for rural communities,” says Jeff Okrucky, director of distribution and marketing for Union Gas.
Okrucky says bringing natural gas to rural areas will attract new residents. “They won’t come if there is no natural gas here,” he has been told by municipal leaders. And Okrucky says the savings from heating from natural gas could generate more economic activity.
“Each homeowner could save between $1,500 and $2,000 per year. Those savings could flow right back into the economy as a local economic stimulant.”
But Okrucky says Union Gas can’t bring natural gas to the more remote areas of the province itself. And he says customers cannot bear the cost either. “One of the biggest barriers in terms of raw economics, if I were to ask customers to contribute what I need it is prohibitively expensive.”
But while Union Gas and the province talk, homeowners have to put up with rising heating costs.
In the meantime, Ward tries keeping the heat in his home a couple of degrees lower than normal. With the howling winds, it doesn’t seem to matter. So he’s resigned to the fact that for this year, he won’t be able to put anything away for a rainy day. “You can’t do anything about it so I guess you just pay it …but I’m going to spend more in a month (for heat) than most people do all year.”
While Ward pays his bills, he knows many cannot. His propane deliveryman had been avoiding him, but eventually agreed to a coffee one cold day. “He told me, ‘I loved my job until right now. People are mad at you or it’s (a delivery) to an older couple and you hand them the bill and they start to cry because that’s their pension cheque.’”