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UPG plans deliveries during week

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

A Paducah company said it plans to begin delivery this week of pre-paid propane after shortages and increased cost throughout the winter resulted in complaints and a state investigation.

In a news release, United Propane Gas said it has been notified by its suppliers and can begin filling pre-buy orders by Saturday. The issue, according to the company, was an inability to meet increased customer demand because of a national shortage and strict allocation limits.

UPG, which is based on Cairo Road in Paducah, also granted a blanket contract release for customers to fill tanks through other companies until Feb. 28.

The statement emphasized the company's attempt to prioritize residential customers by temporarily stopping deliveries to poultry farms and other commercial entities.

"It is the priority of United Propane Gas to meet our customers' needs as quickly as possible," said president Eric Small. "The national propane shortage has made it increasingly difficult to get the propane necessary to service our customers."

According to the company, current wait times for propane delivery are between five and seven days but could be shorter if a tank is almost empty. Officials cite the national shortfall, with half the amount available compared with last year, and an inability to access the company's pre-purchased stockpile located in Texas.

The Kentucky Attorney General's Office of Consumer Production began an investigation on Jan. 28 of United Propane Gas Inc., according to Daniel Kemp, deputy communications director. Attorney General Jack Conway filed a complaint in Franklin Circuit Court for alleged violations of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act.

Kemp said the office has received about 260 logged complaints from Dec. 1 through Monday about propane companies statewide, with more than half about United Propane Gas. He added that representatives were still working to document additional voicemail and email messages.

The investigation continues and the company has 20 days from the file date to provide a written response. The office will then examine the response and decide if the matter should proceed to the discovery phase, which determines if a lawsuit should be filed, Kemp said.

He said complaints have mentioned issues with contacting company personnel to receive a waiver that would allow customers to receive propane from another supplier, and questions about increased prices for pre-paid contracts. The motion filed by Conway granted a restraining order to allow UPG customers to use other suppliers without a written release.

Some customers complained that they purchased propane last year when prices were lower, but now are being charged the higher current price.

Two county attorneys in the region, David Harrington in Calloway County and Jeff Edwards in Marshall County, have referred calls regarding the matter to the attorney general's office.

Harrington said his office received about seven calls in the past few days, primarily about elevated pre-paid prices for propane ordered last summer, before turning the matter over to the state consumer agency.

"Now the attorney general's office can determine the legality and fairness of the raised prices so hopefully people can get their problems addressed," he said.

The company statement said United Propane has been singled out by the Attorney General's Office during a larger statewide supply problem and continues to work on balancing meeting needs with escalating prices.

"UPG has disputed the Attorney General's claims from day one and will vigorously defend the allegations made against us," Small said.

UPG customers with questions or delivery issues can call 1-800-941-2209 to speak with a representative. Customers who want to report issues with their propane supplies can contact the Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division at 502-696-5389 to file a complaint.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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