A new tax, called a hazmat fee, has begun to appear on Downeast Energy customers' bills, giving rise to complaints.
Pamela Smith from North Yarmouth noted it at her expense after she received a propane delivery this winter. She was charged $ 188 for fuel and $ 11.62 for a dangerous fee.
Her propane dealer, Downeast Energy, sent messages to many of her customers at the end of December and said it was introducing the fee to compensate for "part of the cost of overall mandate compliance processes for handling hazardous materials, security." in the workplace, preparedness and environmental protection. "
The message contained a line that notes that the fee is not mandated by local, state or federal governments, and it is not & # 39; t collected on behalf of or sent to the government.
Smith said that the fee amount did not shock her, but the fact that the company added it as a separate tax on her bill, left her "flabbergasted."
"A" hazmat fee every time it is full? "she said. "They are very nice people, but I was just surprised by this extra charge." The fees are a growing phenomenon, said Jamie Py, Chairman and CEO of the Maine Energy Marketers Association. Py has so far said, "I haven't seen much in the Maine market," but he expects it to be more commonplace as national fuel retailers add it to bills for their customers.
Py said as national propane dealers Attach the fees, their local subsidiaries and competitors are likely to follow. Py said he did not know how many fuel companies in Maine add the fees to their bills, but apparently it was still "unusual" in Maine while appearing at national level.
Downeast Energy follows the instructions of the company parent, Superior Plus, says Chris Kowalski, marketing manager for Osterman Gas, another Superior Plus company based in Massachusetts.
Kowalski said the fee covers the companies' investment in driver and technician training, the cost of meeting government regulations, providing up-to-date security equipment and tools to employees and attaching to environmental regulations.
"The Hazmat fee is a transparent way to show our customers the part of their total expenses invested in security," Kowalski said in an emailed statement. When Downeast was sold in 2012, it reported 50,000 customers in Maine and New Hampshire, and Kowalski did not respond to a question of how many customers Downeast now has in Maine.
Kowalski also did not respond directly to a follow-up question if Downeast Energy adjusted its propane prices after separating the fare.
"The price that our customers pay per gallon varies constantly from commodity prices, wages and delivery costs among other factors; with this approach, the hazmat fee is defined," he replied.
According to the governor's energy office, the average average of propane was $ 2.87 per. gallons per January 14th and the average oil heating average was $ 2.89 a month. gallon.
Kowalski said that Downeast's fee will be charged "across all fuel types we provide." The company also sells heating oil.
Dead River Co., another major fuel retailer in Maine, has not started any danger or similar charges on private customers, a spokeswoman said.
Lisa Smith, who runs the governor's energy office, said that some propane customers contacted her for years for a dangerous fee at their expense, and she is receiving more inquiries this year, including some from fuel oil customers. Because the market is largely unregulated, she does not log on to the complainants, but gives advice on how to become a smart consumer of fuel. The office's website provides, for example, tips on buying fuel, security and money.
Smith also said that they also contact those whom they should feel free to ask questions about the bills they receive.
And she said she tells you who's asking the fee: "If you don't like the price, then you go somewhere else."
It's relatively simple advice for people who use fuel oil or petroleum, she said, but more difficult for propane customers. Propane is usually priced based on the volume purchased over a year. In addition, propane tanks are owned by the fuel companies, not the customer. Thus, changing a supplier, as opposed to the oil oil market, can be a time consuming and expensive proposal involving more than just comparing prices.
Smith said state law authorizes propane companies to only fill the tanks they own. Change dealers and you need the old tank replaced by the new supplier, she said.
And it can affect other prices, eg. If the fuel company charges a monthly fee for the tank. Smith said that customers who use a lot of fuel can often avoid these fees, while those who spend less are likely to get a fee added to their bill.
Edward D. Murphy may be contacted at 791-6465 or at: