Vermont Lawmakers Propose Propane Rate Restrictions

The state house in Montpelier, Vermont, topped by Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture and grain. (image: Jassy-50 via flickr.com)

Three members of the Vermont state house have offered bills to limit some of the ancillary rates that propane retailers charge, following consumer complaints about their fees this heating season. The proposed legislation targets minimum use fees and tank rentals, and would also put the Vermont propane trade under the regulation of a state agency. A separate bill would require heating fuel dealers to report their gallon prices to the Department of Public Service.

Vermont Public Radio and the news site VTDigger.com are both reporting the story this morning — the Digger has an especially detailed piece on the proposals.

The bills follow a spate of complaints from propane customers this winter about minimum use fees, among other issues.

In most of the country, propane is not a regulated energy source (like natural gas or electricity), and the government does not monitor rate hikes. Prices fluctuate with the market: customers can bargain for a better price, and retailers can set their own prices.

A few states have increased oversight on the industry. In December, New Mexico tightened its control on the propane trade, including ending a minimum order requirement of 100 gallons. Meantime, the National Propane Gas Association opposes state controls on dealers, arguing that propane is not a public utility and should not be regulated like one.