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Switching from one propane company to another is a relatively simple process that can be started via a phone call.
Karen Gillespie Korrow, president and CEO of Gillespie Fuels in
Northfield, said that propane customers can engage a new propane
provider by signing a form with their new dealer whereby the new dealer
agrees to supply the former dealer with a similarly sized tank. Such
tank swapping is common in the industry, she said, and she explained
that propane providers in Vermont are required by the Vermont attorney
general's office to "work together on replacement tanks."
She said that the Vermont Fuel Dealer's Association was working on improving public awareness of how consumers can move from one propane supplier to another.
"First we need a customer information form to determine who owns the tank. Tanks can be switched or a customer can purchase their in-ground tanks and then show proof of ownership. The current propane supplier should have documentation on file as to who owns the tank," she explained.
Tom Fountain-Provost, service manager at Blue Flame in Waterbury, said that would-be customers need to call to set up an account and then "generally we swap a tank with their old provider."
Setting up an account involves a credit check and Blue Flame representatives will come out and inspect the heating system, gas lines and tanks. That inspection is free of charge, Fountain-Provost said.
He said tanks are considered the property of the propane company serving the residence or business. Customers who assert ownership of their tank should be able to show documentation that they own the tank.
In the past 10 to 15 years, he said, propane companies have greatly improved documentation of tank ownership.
"Years ago, it was done on a handshake, a gentleman's agreement. Since then we've been finding out as we went along that documentation was needed," Fountain-Provost said.
"We have had people say they are switching providers, and we say we're coming to get our tank and they claim it is theirs. Legally, if we don't have documentation that we own the tank, we can't assert ownership - it's on their property," he explained.
"But we've learned to improve that system and we make sure that we complete the forms now as to who owns the tank. If we are to be your provider, we send you an underground tank agreement that is filed with the secretary of state's office and that agreement is also sent to the local towns. We ask that they keep it on file with the land records," he continued.
For consumers who want to have a propane company remove a tank, they need to call the company that owns it and ask to have it taken away. If the tank is more than 5 percent full, it needs to be disconnected and pumped before transport.
"If a customer asks you to remove the tank, you do have to get it off their property. Legally we have 14 days to remove it, if asked. After that, a consumer can pursue legal action," Fountain-Provost said.
Propane rates vary based on when customers purchase and how much they purchase. Fountain-Provost said that owning the fuel tank does not give consumers a significant advantage at Blue Flame. He said with ownership of the tank comes responsibility to maintaining and repairing it.
"Owning the tank gives you more leverage in being able to call a propane competitor anytime," he said.
<MI>Editor's Note: Given the intense local interest in propane company pricing practices, following an article about minimum usage fees,<D> The Valley Reporter <MI>follows up with this information on how readers may choose or switch propane companies.<D>