LPG Spotlight: Inter-Island Propane

June 13, 2019 By    

Propane’s versatility and portability make it an ideal fuel for those people living in remote areas. Servicing those remote customers, though, presents a special set of challenges.

Inter-Island Propane is located in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. Photo courtesy of Inter-Island Propane.

Inter-Island Propane is located in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. Photo courtesy of Inter-Island Propane.

For the residents and tourists on the San Juan Islands – a group of islands off the northwest coast of Washington – propane can be a crucial asset. But propane wasn’t a major part of the islands’ energy offerings until two longtime islanders stepped into the energy scene.

Donny Galt has lived on the San Juan Islands since 1981, and Jimmie Lawson has been a resident for the past 25 years after serving in the U.S. Navy. In 2016, the two decided to bring propane to the islands and start Inter-Island Propane.

“We were just sitting around a camp fire one night kicking around the idea and said let’s give it a shot,” Galt explains.

Galt, who has over 30 years of entrepreneurial experience, says the goal was to add a competitive option to the energy offerings already on the islands. The pair were ready to take on the unique challenges that come with delivering propane.

Currently, Inter-Island Propane operates bulk plants on San Juan Island and Lopez Island, and a third plant on Orcas Island is on the way. To fill these bulk tanks, Inter-Island Propane partners with longtime friends and owners of Pintail Marine to barge propane from the mainland to the islands.

Captains Kevin and Kendra Martin bought the long-standing barge company around the same time Galt and Lawson established Inter-Island Propane. The Martins agreed to help Galt and Lawson by barging the company’s transport onto the island to fill the bulk tanks. They also barge their bobtail fleet to the other outer islands to fill customers’ tanks.

“Logistically it sounds crazy,” Galt admits about adding a barge to the supply chain. “But if you grew up here and lived here, it’s pretty much the way of life.”

Filling bulk tanks wasn’t much of a challenge for Inter-Island Propane, but building them in the first place was a high hurdle to overcome.

“In general, when you are trying to put in your bulk plants in small communities, a lot of people are not educated in what propane is and how safe it really is,” Galt says. “We spent a lot of time trying to educate islanders on our new systems and facilities. We said it will be top of the line and exceed NFPA standards, as far as safety protocol goes.”

Galt says community outreach was a key part of establishing the propane business and even hopes to work with local fire departments in the future to further establish its place in the community.

“We did a lot of community outreach trying to explain to people the benefits of propane and how it’s such an awesome fuel compared to others,” Galt explains.

Today, Inter-Island Propane services more than 10 private and public islands in San Juan County. To keep up with filling tanks efficiently, the young company uses Cargas integrated with Tank Utility monitors to track and manage tank levels.

“As we grow, we have found it easier to sleep at night knowing we can see real-time tank data levels and keep our customers’ tanks full,” Galt says. “It seems like we are infants in this propane world. If we can stay on top of technology, innovations and keep things safe, we are going to be just fine.”

Inter-Island Propane

Headquarters // Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington
Owners & Founders // Donny Galt and Jimmie Lawson
Employees // 9
Bobtails // 3
Website // interislandpropane.com

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About the Author:

Joe McCarthy was an associate editor at LP Gas Magazine.

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