Fixed rates for propane not so fixed, Yellowknife woman discovers

Fixed rates for propane not so fixed, Yellowknife woman discovers

- in Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon
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With winter coming, many Yellowknife homeowners turn their attention to home heating fuel costs.

Superior Propane is offering customers a one-year fixed rate on propane to guard against unexpected price increases, something Mary Tapsell has taken advantage of in the past. She uses thousands of litres of propane every year to heat her Yellowknife home.

Tapsell saw the rate she was offered this year was higher than last year, and she asked her friends what they were being offered for a fixed rate.

She says she found out different people were being offered different rates for their household propane. Although none were being offered a lower rate than her, some were close to 5 cents per litre higher.

She said it’s unfair that different customers get different fixed prices.

“When you get a locked-in price, and everyone is getting it at the same time, I don’t understand why there can be one price here, then I phone another friend and she’s getting another price and I phone another friend and they’re getting another price — all from the same company.”

Tapsell asked Yellowknifers to share the fixed rates they’re being offered on her Facebook page. She said she’s trying to add transparency to propane pricing in Yellowknife.

“I put a post on Facebook just to try and understand what other people are paying,” Tapsell said. “It’s not wrong to ask prices and find out — are we getting a good price or not?”

Tapsell said in the past she’s complained about the fixed rate she was offered, only to have the supplier reduce the rate.

This year turned out to be no different. Late on Wednesday, she said she learned from Superior Propane that her fixed rate would remain unchanged from last year, at $0.61 per litre. She said she was initially offered a fixed rate of $0.65 per litre this year.

Superior Propane, a national supplier of home fuel products, did not respond to a request for comment from CBC.

The heat is on

Norm Bassett is the vice president of Bassett Petroleum Distributors Ltd, the N.W.T. distributor for Bluewave Energy propane products in the North, and is a relative newcomer to the propane market in Yellowknife.

He said there can be a definite advantage to signing on for a fixed rate before the winter.

“You’re locked in,” Bassett said.  “If you’re watching the news and you see… there’s a crisis or shortage and gas prices start going up, at least this price will be fixed for the season.”

He said it’s not unusual for a fixed rate to be affected by either volume or payment history, and it may be that Bluewave would negotiate individual pricing, but Bassett is the distributor, and that would be between the supplier and the individual customer.  

Bassett said Bluewave has a fixed rate of $0.689 per litre of propane for the winter months, and is offering an incentive to Yellowknife customers of a quantity of free propane and a no-charge tank installation if propane users make the switch to his company.

“It’s capitalism,” Bassett said. “It’s good to have competition in the market to keep pricing under control.”

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