Lawmakers Want More Control Over Propane Fuel Dealers

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Three lawmakers in the House of Representatives have introduced bills in the Legislature that would affect the way propane gas companies operate in Vermont. The legislators want to curb the fees propane dealers charge consumers for minimum gas usage and tank rental. One of the bills would require the propane industry to be regulated by the Department of Public Service. Another would make it mandatory for companies to report their prices to the department.

The legislation was introduced in the wake of a controversy over fees associated with the delivery of propane. In September, Pyrofax Energy, began charging a hefty per gallon fee – on top of the cost of the gas itself — to customers in Vermont who used less than one tank of fuel per year. More than 100 Vermonters have filed formal complaints with the Vermont Attorney General’s office about the minimum usage fees.

Steven Gentile of S. Burlington was charged $499.50 in a minimum usage fee in January — on top of what he paid for the gas — $148.95, according to the letter he filed with the Attorney General’s office. Pyrofax billed him for the additional amount even though Gentile bought more than $800 worth of gas in 2010.

Maurice Messier of Enosburg said Pyrofax sent him a $69.50 surcharge for gas he didn’t use. Messier said he was being charged $7.50 a gallon for the gas. He called Rep. Michel Consejo, D-Sheldon, to complain.

"I’m sick and tired of big companies rough-shodding all over us little people," Messier said in a telephone interview.

In response to the complaints, Pyrofax sent out a press release in January to its Vermont customers pledging to return the fees. The company said in a statement that the fees cover the cost of maintaining propane tanks and providing liability coverage. Pyrofax, a subsidiary of Intergy, L.P., the fourth largest propane dealer in the United States based in Kansas City, Mo., intends "to apply the minimum usage fee where appropriate in 2011."

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