Partnership perils

November 1, 2006 By    

Imagine sitting down with your spouse to list the details of your relationship in writing. Beyond those “Yes, dear” items, there are treacherous pitfalls in specifying what you meant when you said “I do” those many years ago.

 Patrick Hyland
Patrick Hyland

That’s been the task for the propane industry’s two representative groups, the National Propane Gas Association and the Propane Education & Research Council. Both organizations last month concluded arduous negotiations by approving a new “partnership agreement” that also includes the Gas Processors Association.

The operating contract attempts to formally define the roles of the nonprofit groups and align resources and expertise to better serve industry needs. It also commits $1.6 million in PERC funds for collaborative projects in 2007.

Beneath the surface of the agreement, however, contention between the two remains a threat to industry productivity.

Organization Presidents Rick Roldan and Roy Willis have been hammering out contract details for a full year. Both say the document should improve cohesion by delineating responsibilities that were vague under the expiring management agreement.

They also acknowledge that the final contract is no silver bullet to create harmony or erase conflict, however.

Indeed, two PERC members voted against the pact. Their objections: insufficient justification for funds granted for NPGA projects and inadequate accountability in providing money as a lump sum instead of the project-by-project requests used in the past. They also cite concern that PERC may be overstepping its authority by funding certain NPGA staff expenses that involve lobbying activities.

Some NPGA board members, meanwhile, continue to chafe over PERC priorities and funding decisions. Last month, they balked at a study of regulators, challenging whether projects are getting adequate review and cost justification.

Ongoing work in the area of safety and training – particularly with changes to the Certified Employee Training Program – likewise causes persistent heartburn for both sides.

NPGA’s mission is to advance safety and increase the use of propane through public policy. PERC’s charge is to marshal resources and put them to work for companies that sell propane. Each functions in a very different culture, and those differences provide a balance that is good for the industry as a whole.

The problem is that they don’t always fit together well. Too often, they create the “us vs. them” mentality that hinders the collective effort.

The propane industry can ill afford to squander opportunities to create value in this radically changing energy market. It needs both a strong NPGA and a strong PERC to compete, but only if both groups put aside petty turf wars and deliver the unselfish leadership and dedicated teamwork that they were created to provide.

Patrick Hyland

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