Customers of Vineyard Propane, an affiliate of AmeriGas, have expressed growing frustration with the fuel service and customer service from the propane provider. Vineyard Propane is one of four propane suppliers on the Vineyard. As of Monday, its parent company, AmeriGas, had over a thousand complaints on the Better Business Bureau website. Complaints on the Vineyard have burned across Facebook, and into the ears of the six Island fire chiefs.
AmeriGas merged with energy company UGI Corp. last summer. It was around then when customer complaints on the Vineyard started, increasing to what’s now a fever pitch.
Tom Green, a Vineyard Propane manager, declined to comment on what is going on with the company. A spokesperson for AmeriGas declined immediate comment Monday afternoon, but promised to send a statement to The Times.
Vineyard builder and caretaker Farley Pedler told The Times he and several of his clients were perturbed with Vineyard Propane.
For the past 15 years, Pedler said, he and his clients have had a reliable history with Vineyard Propane. Issues began last summer when one of his clients ran out of propane in July. At the time Pedler didn’t think much of the mishap, but once the weather got colder, more issues started to arise.
Pedler says he keeps his clients on a regular fuel schedule, and never lets their tanks dip very low. Recently he noticed some tanks needed a refill.
“I called and was assured we were on the schedule,” he said of one client. “I went back there the next week, and we were down to 15 percent,” he said.
Things became “alarming” when two of Pedler’s clients ran out of fuel this winter. One of the clients who ran out of fuel switched fuel companies, but ran into difficulties, since AmeriGas owns the fuel tanks. The company told Pedler’s clients they could either purchase the tanks, including one that is underground, or have AmeriGas remove them through a lengthy process.
“[T]his point they still haven’t gotten a price to purchase the tank. Additionally, AmeriGas came out and put a lock on the lid of the tank. Basically preventing anyone from accessing the tank both to check the fuel levels and fill it in an emergency,” Pedler said. “They’re essentially holding their customers hostage.”
Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Leland, president of the Dukes County Fire Chiefs Association, said situations have developed where his department has needed to issue special temporary propane tank permits just so customers can switch to another company’s tanks and get fuel. He said the chief’s association has issued a warning letter to all Vineyard propane companies and reissued two older letters to make sure propane providers are up to speed on what their responsibilities are. A threat of fines is included as part of the warning in one letter.
Edgartown Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer said his frustration at the situation with Vineyard Propane reached the point of anger, but added his feelings quickly changed when he discovered local managers don’t appear so much at fault, and are doing their best with difficult circumstances dealt to them by the corporate parent. Shaeffer noted locks on tanks aren’t as draconian as they appear. Safety and liability and regulation prevent one propane company from depositing gas into another company’s tank, he said. This can create a situation where a person has two tanks in their yard — the old one that hasn’t been collected and the new one delivered by the next propane company a home or business owner selects. Among other impediments customers face, Chief Schaeffer said, are no more local phone representatives. Calls placed to the Vineyard office are rerouted to the corporate call center. Previously they were all received on the Vineyard. One call placed by The Times on Friday was met with a message stating the expected wait time to speak with someone was 71 minutes.
“I know personally it took me 30 minutes to get through to customer service, Rymes advised me to call the fire chief a week after I switched, in anticipation of their failing to recover my tanks,” West Tisbury resident Louis de Geofroy wrote in an email.
He’s far from the only one with such a complaint.
Renee Nolan posted to Islanders Talk on Dec. 20 about her frustrations. “So annoyed with AmeriGas! Called for a delivery on Dec. 9, and was told that I’d get a delivery in 10 days … oh look, 11 days later, no delivery and when I call I’m told via recording that a Sunday delivery will have an additional charge. So far I’ve had to listen to horrible elevator music for over 30 minutes. My poor carpenter is about to freeze … I guess I’ll be calling Rymes in the morning.”
“I’m getting calls left and right about tanks being left for weeks or months,” West Tisbury Fire Chief Manuel Estrella III said. Estrella said he hopes fines might motivate swifter tank removal.
Even receipts and order tickets have vanished, Chief Schaeffer said. “They have drivers, they have product, but there’s no way to print a ticket on the Vineyard,” he said.