PERC to refocus after DOC lifts restriction

April 23, 2015 By    

The Department of Commerce (DOC) lifted a restriction that took hold about six years ago on the Propane Education & Research Council’s (PERC) consumer outreach activities.

Progress was made in December, when President Barack Obama signed the Propane Education and Research Enhancement Act of 2014. The legislation modified PERC’s functions while also stipulating the data DOC can use to develop its annual propane price analysis.

The new law specified that DOC must use data reflecting all propane sectors – not just the residential market. The industry had argued that using data across all sectors provided a more accurate price of the product and gave it the best chance to avoid the restriction.

When Congress enacted the Propane Education & Research Act, 1996 legislation that authorized PERC’s formation, DOC was instructed to calculate the price of consumer grade propane annually and compare it with an index of prices of specified competing fuels. If the price of propane exceeded a specified threshold, the council would be restricted from conducting most educational outreach activities regarding the general benefits of propane, on the assumption it was driving disproportionate demand.

During the restriction, put in place in August 2009 and terminating millions of dollars of educational outreach programs, the council had been authorized to focus only on research and development and safety-related initiatives.

But PERC says it will have more opportunities now to promote propane to consumers throughout each of the industry’s market segments.

“The council is serious about putting together a consumer campaign for the industry, but we want to be circumspective and methodical about how we develop that campaign,” says Roy Willis, PERC president and CEO. “We now have markets in addition to residential and commercial, whereas the last campaign was exclusively focused. We have a lot more opportunities to expand demand than existed five, six years ago, before the restriction hit.”

Willis says he’s been asked to provide preliminary perspective on the campaign PERC plans to outline by the council’s next meeting, July 14-15 in Park City, Utah. He says a final plan may be in place by fall.

“We’ll be working to develop a vision statement and, of course, we’ll have a draft proposal for the 2016 budget, which we have to publish before Aug. 1,” Willis says. “I don’t expect to have a final plan in July.”

The media landscape has changed since PERC’s last consumer campaign, Willis adds. New avenues exist through which PERC can promote its messages, and evaluating which are best will take time.

“It’s a much different media environment,” Willis says. “Part of our planning process will be to explore in each one of these market segments the optimal use of media to reach our audience.”

The council has also asked the PERC staff to evaluate the value of ongoing programs.

“We’ve got to not only look at developing a consumer ad program and what we’re doing to promote propane appliances, equipment and vehicles, but we also need to look at how the consumer ad program might affect our other activities – safety and training, research and development,” Willis says. “Those are not easy things to capsulize right away. The council wants to be really smart about it.”

Forklift engine, material handling projects approved

PERC approved more than $2 million for forklift engine development and material handling market research projects during its April meeting, ahead of the Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo in Atlanta.

Jeremy Wishart, PERC’s deputy director of business development, says $2 million will be used to develop an advanced propane engine focused on mobile industrial applications, specifically as a replacement to the Tier 4 diesel and electrified products in the 3- to 6-ton forklift market.

In addition, the new engine would replace an outgoing 3.0-liter engine with better emissions, performance and scalability. PERC is partnering with Power Solutions International Inc. on the project.

The council also approved $255,000 for a material handling market research and outreach program, with Swanson Russell as the principal contractor. PERC’s goals with the program are to reposition propane within the market and prepare it for future competition.

PERC also approved the following projects from its consent calendar, with the principal contractor in parenthesis, where applicable:

Ÿ$321,424 for the council’s Marketer Technology & Sales Training (MTST) program, supporting 42 additional training sessions and the development of a MTST digital component.

$300,000 for a project that will obtain EPA certification on the Prins direct-injection technology and conduct a proof of concept pilot on 100 2013 Chevrolet Impalas for Veolia Transportation On-Demand (Blossman Services Inc.).

Ÿ $285,000 for a project that will supply an EPA- and CARB-certified dual-fuel autogas system for model years 2010-14 Volvo D13 and Mack MP8 engines for high fuel-consuming regional fleets (Blossman Services Inc.).

Ÿ $264,000 for maintenance and support of the council’s Propane Marketer Resource Catalog.

Ÿ $71,300 for continued work to update the 2017 edition of NFPA 58, reflecting current autogas and autogas technologies (Parafour Inc.).

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