Joe Rose has spent nearly 35 years in the propane industry, the last 10 as president and CEO of the Propane Gas Association of New England (PGANE). Most of his time in the industry was devoted to the retail side of propane.
Now, the Rhode Island native and New Hampshire resident is retiring, leaving PGANE and its 775 members in the hands of Leslie Anderson. Rose will work with Anderson in the coming months to help her transition to her new position.
LP Gas Editor-in-Chief Brian Richesson caught up with Rose to ask him about his decision to retire, his time with PGANE and the industry.
LP Gas: How did you know the time was right to retire?
Rose: With crazy old people like me, work comes first and family comes second. One of the things I admire about you younger people is you have a more balanced lifestyle. I decided five years ago that I would be 63 this coming summer and it was time, while my wife and I are still young enough and in good health, that I should retire and she should come first for a while.
LP Gas: You’ve been so entrenched with PGANE and the industry on a national scale. How hard will it be to step away?
Rose: One of my retirement goals is to apply to be a public member on the PERC council. I’ve been involved with PERC since the beginning. I was on the training needs assessment task force. I was the chairman of the safety and training advisory committee for several years. I’ve been a member of the PERC advisory committee for the last eight or nine years. I’ve been heavily involved in PERC and NPGA. I’ve been a Benchmarking [Council] facilitator for NPGA, and I plan to continue that so I can keep my head in the game a little bit. I just can’t go from 100 mph to 0. At least this will be a little more predictable and a very part-time opportunity to continue to serve.
LP Gas: Can you tell us about the unique nature of propane in New England and how that tied into your role with PGANE?
Rose: New England for a long time has been a sweet spot [for growth], and that’s because of the fuel oil conversions. People like propane because it’s domestically produced, clean, environmentally friendly and the equipment is much higher efficiency. You can do everything with it in the home and outside the home, so you need one fuel. Those fuel oil conversions have been the low-hanging fruit. Many of our members at PGANE have converted their homes and are selling that option to their customers when they need new heating equipment. One of the things that makes that possible in New England is that with the energy business here you’re a full-service provider. If something breaks, you fix it. If something needs replaced, you replace it. You’re not just delivering fuel. Fuel delivery is very important, but it’s not the only thing we do. We also have a lot of new construction in New England right now. We’re getting eight out of 10 [new homes on propane] where there is no natural gas.
LP Gas: Can you describe for us your main responsibilities and the tasks that took up most of your time?
Rose: Maintaining a favorable business environment. That translates into legislative and regulatory [tasks]. With six states in PGANE, the umbrella is six of everything – the fire marshal, attorney general and legislature. It’s been a big balancing act. When I took this job, I was living in Rhode Island. I moved my office and my home to central New Hampshire, outside Concord, which is the New Hampshire state capital. From here I can get to every New England state capital in two-and-a-half hours or less. If I get a call and have to be at a statehouse, I can be there in three hours. And when the day’s done, I can drive home and sleep in my own bed.
LP Gas: What were some of the key propane industry issues that marked your time with the association?
Rose: I don’t think there’s one key issue [for PGANE], but if there was a key issue common to all states it was permitting storage and improving supply. There has been more success in some places than in others. Also, a lot of consumer protection issues. The key to all legislative and regulatory [successes] is you have to develop credibility by being honest and telling the truth, even when it hurts you. You do the best you can by developing relationships to get the best deal and understand life is a give and take, not black and white. It’s always gray.
LP Gas: What are some of the biggest issues facing the propane industry as you depart?
Rose: To retain and build our customer base and find ways to store more fuel so we have a more predictable and stable supply. Along with that comes predictable and stable pricing for our customers because they don’t like the fluctuations. That’s one of our big issues on a national level. We have to find ways to sell more customers less gallons per year by installing high-efficiency appliances and saving them money. If we can’t get that through our heads, we’re not going to be successful. I watched the average residential consumer volume drop dramatically over these last 20 years. It’s probably half of what it was when I started because they’re installing high-efficiency equipment. The focus needs to be on growing gallons by diversifying your customers so you’re creating volume where there wasn’t any before. We’re doing a great disservice to our industry by trying to undercut our competitors. We would be much better off going to existing accounts and trying to switch electric water heaters to propane and selling fireplaces, clothes dryers and cooking stoves to build load and take that load away from other fuels, primarily electricity.
LP Gas: What are your plans for retirement?
Rose: My hobby is gardening, and we recently purchased a fifth wheel on a permanent campsite in Vermont where we plan to boat and fish on Lake Champlain. I have plenty of things to do. My wife has a long list of chores to be caught up on.