Neebing, Ont. — The cost of heating a home with propane could be less onerous this winter if the province offered consumers subsidies like it does for electricity, MPP Lise Vaugeois says. “It’s a short-term solution for a particularly Northern issue that doesn’t get a lot of attention from the government,” Vaugeois (NDP–Thunder Bay-Superior North) said Friday. “Some people have told me that their cost for propane has doubled over the past three years.” Conservative MPP Kevin Holland, who also represents rural Thunder Bay communities, didn’t immediately respond Friday when his office was asked if he would support a propane subsidy. The fuel is a popular heating choice in rural areas where a connection to the natural gas pipeline isn’t available. But unlike natural gas and electricity, propane is not regulated in Ontario; what people pay per litre can vary widely among customers — whether it’s a home, a business or municipality. The Municipality of Neebing, for example, said its per-litre cost for propane has jumped to 72 cents. Last year, the amount was 62 cents, said clerk-treasurer Erika Kromm. Though some Neebing residents in the northern part of the municipality have access to less-expensive natural gas, “most use oil or propane,” Kromm said. “Many have been switching to propane because of the high cost of (oil), and the difficulties in finding someone to service that type of furnace,” she added. Superior Propane, the region’s largest propane supplier, says customers can control their fuel costs by “locking in” to a set price for the season. But timing, it seems, is everything. “Customers locking in at different times will likely pay a different fixed price, since the price is determined by fluctuating market conditions and forecasts at the time they are locking in,” said Superior spokeswoman Teresa Crosato. Some customers have told The Chronicle-Journal that they have paid as much as 20 cents more per litre than a neighbour who lives on the same street. Crosato said prices are also based on how much a customer is projected to use over a 12-month period. “The more volume secured for a customer, the better the fixed rate,” she said. Because propane is not regulated, customers are at the mercy of suppliers. If they feel they are being gouged, they can’t appeal to the Ontario Energy Board — an option they have with their hydro bill. In 2022, a rise in propane prices was generally blamed on supply issues linked to the Ukraine war. Though the war is ongoing, prices may not be impacted to the same extent this winter. According to Crosato, “many of our customers are renewing at a lower fixed rate this year than last year.” Vaugeois said that in the long-term, the province needs to provide financial incentives that allow homeowners to make their dwellings more energy-efficient.
CARL CLUTCHEY, LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE REPORTER, The Chronicle-Journal