Less Really IS More

Firewood, stacked to dry
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The local gas company truck backed laboriously up the gravel drive on a routine, unannounced check of our tank. More often than not, they check, and leave without adding any gas. We don’t use any more than we have to, and with the wood heat, it’s mostly for cooking and hot water we use the propane. I went out and chatted with the delivery man.

“I’m surprised to see you” I said “since I just sent a bill in less than a month ago. I can’t imagine we’d need gas.”

He checked. We were down to 30% in the 320 gallon tank.

“That’s pretty remarkable to use that much gas in that short a time” I told him. How much did you put in for the $95 I just paid and when was it delivered?”

He checked his records and found the last bill for us in the 90-dollar range was back in 2004. My curiosity was aroused. What HAD I been billed for, then?

While the tank filled, I called the company. Here’s what I learned.

“Seems you didn’t use enough gas last year and the $95 would have been 105, you musta hadda credit. It’s the “MINIMUM USE FEE” she told me matter-of-factly.

“Say what? I’m being penalized because I was conservative? That doesn’t seem right.”

She saw my point, but it seems the shots are not called from the Floyd office anymore but from down in Stuart where it is more the bottom line that is most important.

The fine print on the contract we signed in 1999 gives the company the “right” to charge a rental fee (read PENALTY) on the tank if they don’t make enough from gas sales. One’s first reaction to this might be “heck, I’m cranking the heat up, since I’m going to pay one way or another, might as well bask in the heat of dead dinosaurs.”

I’m looking into the possibility of buying my own danged tank (upwards of $1000 I think), something that would make more sense if we faced a longer payback period ahead. I may do it, monetary feasibility be damned, just because I object to this reinforced excess of use that this policy carries with it.

If anybody has ideas about a source for a tank locally (I’ll be danged if I’m buying it from said local gas company) let me know. Concepts like this have no legitimacy in the modern energy-strapped marketplace. Shame!Less

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Wow. This really opened my eyes. I think the same has been happening to us. And we only use the propane rarely as back-up to wood.

    Hey Fred, can you shoot me an email. My PC is down and I don’t have access to my email addresses. Roughing it on my laptop and I want to ask you a question.

  2. That fee is the reason I didn’t sign with Clarke. SW VA gas company, out of Christiansburg loans the tanks and only charges for the gas actually used. Much nicer people to do business with too.

  3. We ran into the same problem a few years back with Highland Propane out of Dublin. We didn’t fulfill their minimum usage policy. Only they did have the decency to warn us about the fee before they actually started charging us, and gave us the option of buying their tank. We bought the 500-gallon propane tank we had been using from them for $200 (if I remember correctly). The propane is just a backup system for us anyway. Highland comes about once a year and tops off the tank. We seldom use the propane, relying on the wood stove we’ve been using for almost 30 years. We’ve been happy with Highland, for the most part. We live in Floyd County, so they will probably deliver to your house.

  4. Sneaky fees like this now seem to be the rule rather than the exception, in all types of services. It really is a form of theft. Capitalist pig though I may be, I definitely disagree with the practice; it violates everyone’s sense of fair play and it needs to stop. ESPECIALLY when the fee basically amounts to a penalty for being conscientious.

  5. I’m researching propane to use as a back-up to wood so we can leave for a few days in the winter and not worry. I didn’t realise there were so many sneaky ways for them to take davantage of me. Between this site and a couple of others I now have a lot more questions to ask before I order a tank installation or purchase/rental. Thanks. Day Creek, Wa.

  6. OK, I know I am coming to the propane party REALLY late, but I came across this story when I was searching for propane “minimum use fee” to get some knowledge (and I was HOPING ammunition) before calling my propane company about MY recent bill. I got a minimum use fee for $108 out of the blue! My question to those of you who may still be monitoring this (6-7 years later…) is what sort of delivery plan you were on. Were you on automatic, budget, pre-pay? I am on “call as I need it” and since it is only for my hot water (water heater, washer and dishwasher – not heat) I do not use much. I live in NH where propane is unregulated, but how can they send this to me with no warning?? On the back of the bill this fee is not listed (all others are) and it also says the can change fees/rates as they wish and the consumer should call or go to their website to check regularly on fees! This is just nuts, there must be a law/rule.