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United Propane restarts prebuy deliveries to homes

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

Deliveries to prepaid residential customers of United Propane Gas resumed Thursday morning, which officials hope forecasts the end of winter supply issues.

The Paducah-based propane company, headquartered on Cairo Road, had planned to begin filling tanks Saturday, but started Thursday because of a delivery of about 7,000 gallons of propane, according to president Eric Small.

The current inventory is sufficient to fill needs of pre-paid residential customers, and the company will honor all pre-purchased prices, UPG said. The improved outlook is because slightly warmer weather has eased the high demand for propane, Small said.

"We appreciate our customers being so patient and understanding; we have the greatest customers in the world," he said.

Small said in his 40 years with the company and in UPG's more than 60 years, they have not dealt with a shortage of this magnitude. In early January, the company's pre-buy stockpile, which is kept separate from other supplies, ran low and then empty. The primary issue was UPG's supply of pre-purchased gas, located in Texas, couldn't be delivered because of the weather, he said. 

The company suspended all pre-buy delivery services from Jan. 25 until Thursday. He said residential customers can now receive up to 250 gallons per delivery with additional deliveries available every 15 days.

"The misconception was that we had the gas when in reality we couldn't get it until now," he said.

The company's policy prioritizes the needs of residential customers over others primarily because of safety issues. Delivery to commercial and agricultural customers, which require more propane than individual homes, will remain suspended until Feb. 24 when the company  expects a 35,000-gallon shipment, he said. A blanket waiver issued by UPG that allows customers to fill tanks with other companies remains in effect for businesses and farms until Feb. 28, according to Small.

Attorney General Jack Conway filed a complaint against UPG for alleged violations of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act on Jan. 28. The Office of Consumer Protection received about 300 complaints between Dec. 1 and Thursday regarding propane companies nationwide, with more than half related to UPG, according to deputy communications director Daniel Kemp.

In late January Conway was also granted a restraining order to allow customers of UPG and its subsidiaries to secure propane from another supplier without a written release until Feb. 3. A written release by a tank supplier is required by Kentucky law before another supplier can fill the tank. The court's restraining order suspended that requirement.

The Attorney General's Office received complaints from customers of UPG that they had trouble reaching a representative or could not secure a waiver from the company.

Kemp said the company had 20 days from the file date to provide a written response. The office will then examine the documentation and decide if the matter should proceed to the discovery phase to determine if a lawsuit should be filed.

Small said the company's legal representation plans to file the necessary response today or Monday. He said Thursday that the company had been targeted as one of the largest statewide for a shortage that affected all of Kentucky and more than 20 other states.

UPG customers with questions or delivery issues can call 1-800-941-2209 to speak with a representative.

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

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