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CLARKRANGE (WATE) - The arctic air sweeping through East Tennessee this winter has caused a shortage in propane supplies. Some homeowners are now worried that suppliers are taking advantage of a bad situation.
A homeowner in Fentress County reached out to 6 News wondering if she was charged too much to refill her propane tank, becoming a victim of possible price gouging.
We're told 17 complaints of suspected price gouging have been filed so far with the Division of Consumer Affairs in Tennessee.
By the looks of it, it's been a dark and dreary winter here in Clarkrange.
"It's been a lot colder this year," said homeowner Rebecca York.
The York family relies on propane to help keep them warm. Because it's been so cold, they needed to refill much sooner. York says earlier this year she signed a contract with United Propane Gas to pay $1.99 per gallon.
"Wednesday when they brought it he told me if I wanted it, it was $3.59 and all contracts had been suspended, which totally shocked me," she said.
York says she took some time to think it over and when she decided to refill, she was hit with sticker shock again.
"I'm almost out and just go ahead and deduct it from what I've already paid. She said 'Well it's gone up to $3.99.' and this was five hours later," added York.
Fortunately, she was able to negotiate down to $3.59 a gallon for a total of 114 gallons of propane, though that didn't fill her tank. Now she's worried that price may not be right.
"I didn't know how you could cancel a guarantee," she said.
That's why York says she filed a complaint with Tennessee's Attorney General to see if this is a case of price gouging.
"I didn't know what else to do. You don't know who else to talk to after you went and talked to them and you just do all you can. But you don't want to just sit back and do nothing."
We checked and according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the price of propane in Kentucky - which is where United Propane Gas is based - was $3.78, excluding taxes, during the week of January 27.
The York family is hoping they won't need more propane any time soon.
"I'm hoping that just spring will come early and we can figure out what to do for next winter," she said.
United Propane gas responded to our email on Tuesday afternoon saying the company has gas available, but gas that customers pre-bought to cover pre-buy is not available due to a shortage due to pipeline allocation. The company hopes that the gas will be available after February 15.
UPG says its terms and conditions state that if the company is prevented from fulfilling its obligations by "fire, riot, war, act of God, failure of transportation facilities, supply or pipeline allocation, Delays at terminal loading facilities, inability to
receive from its suppliers or carriers the propane secured pursuant to this
agreement for customer, or any cause beyond reasonable control," then their obligations to provide the pre-bought gas are suspended.
UPG says the current price of gas is $3.48 per gallon. The company is paying $2.79 per gallon in Saint Louis, Mo. where they are getting it.
After Tennessee declared its state of emergency last month due to rough winter weather, the Attorney General's Office issued a warning for potential propane price gouging.
If you think you are a victim, officials say you should file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs.
You should have specific information ready like the name and location of the business, and the price you were charged. You can file those reports online at tn.gov or by calling (800) 342-8385.
If price gouging is confirmed, businesses can face injunctions, civil penalties, and be ordered to refund customers.