Midwest propane industry shares perspectives, innovations at summit

February 10, 2023 By    

Industry leaders from across the region gathered in January for a Midwest Propane Summit, held at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Missouri.

Meeting photo courtesy of the Missouri Propane Education & Research Council

Tucker Perkins of the Propane Education & Research Council, standing, addresses Midwest Propane Summit attendees. (Photo: Missouri Propane Education & Research Council)

The event brought together more than 30 representatives from state associations, propane marketers and industry suppliers. The attendees came from Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to discuss opportunities, challenges and best practices. Joining the event as participants were Tucker Perkins, president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), and Stuart Weidie, PERC chairman and Blossman Gas president and CEO.

The objectives for the two-day Summit were to increase communication among the states, share best practices and identify opportunities for cooperation.

“Propane’s moment is right now,” said Steve Ahrens, president of the Missouri Propane Education & Research Council and organizer of the summit. “We have an incredible, unprecedented opportunity to expand our businesses. With an avalanche of federal funding for low-emission projects and propane’s confirmed benefits in a nearly limitless range of applications, our story is almost too good to be true.

“Coming together to share ideas and opportunities is just as important as sharing enthusiasm and momentum. The group did a great job of covering all those bases,” Ahrens said.

The participants discussed how to succeed with propane autogas fleets. That focus was fueled by a presentation from Big Cedar Lodge safety and logistics coordinator Liz Stanley, who is supervising the conversion of the property’s shuttles to propane. “It was the best thing we’ve ever done,” said Stanley. The property intends to add more propane vehicles, including maintenance and laundry trucks, landscape equipment and more.

“We realize that marketing propane as a solution to fleets takes a less fuel-centric approach and relies more on creating vehicle and equipment certainty,” Ahrens said. “You don’t win autogas fleets with a brochure and a business card.”

Additional discussions on best practices for school bus events led to at least one new event planned for Oklahoma, with a series of two to five more planned for Arkansas and Missouri.

One of the key topics was how to achieve consistent regulatory compliance across state lines.

“Propane is the same molecule no matter where you find it, so disparate rules and regulations can only confuse and diffuse our safety programs,” Ahrens said. “The industry has invested millions to create a comprehensive education program, and that investment is diminished by unequal state code adoptions.

“We all know this will be a heavy lift, but getting regulatory agencies to grant reciprocity for training credentials would benefit everyone,” Ahrens added. “Recognizing NFPA 58 and 54 as standardized state codes, rather than a patchwork of different sources, editions and interpretations, will actually improve customer and industry safety. If everyone is held to the same standard and uses the same codes, we can be more consistent in training and installations, and that can only result in safer practices that protect our customers, our companies and our communities.”

Several committees were formed during the summit to further address the commonality of the mission for the regional partners: regional autogas demonstrations; school bus ride-and-drives; regulatory and training consistency; and leveraging the experience of customer service representatives. The group also wants to explore how to leverage new residential technology like combined heat and power and renewable/bio propane.

The event was a pandemic-delayed follow-up to a similar meeting two years ago. The group will convene again during the Mid-States Propane Expo on Aug. 7-9 in Rogers, Arkansas.

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