PERC outlines 2015 budget proposal, passes $6 million safety campaign

July 22, 2014 By    

The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) voted at its summer meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., to publish a proposed 2015 budget of $36.1 million for public comment before Aug. 1.

About $21 million, or 58 percent, of the budget will go toward operating programs, the council outlined during its July meeting in Santa Fe, N.M. These programs cover research and development, safety, and training. The engine fuel and residential/commercial markets, as well as industry programs, make up 72 percent of the operating program budget.

The regional propane shortages of last winter and an ongoing federal government restriction of its consumer education activities led PERC to approve a $6.1 million consumer safety preparedness campaign during its summer meeting.

PERC initially earmarked $3 million for a campaign that would focus just on the hard-hit Midwest, but requests were made to cover other regions that faced supply and distribution issues last winter, the council said. Key components of the project will center on propane counties east of the Rocky Mountains.

The communications campaign, PERC’s largest funding request since the restriction took hold in August 2009 due to rising propane prices, will encourage residential propane customers to talk with their propane provider about the winter before cold weather arrives. The council says last winter revealed a greater need for residential propane consumers to plan more carefully for cold weather and to avoid out-of-gas situations.

PERC says the restriction has hampered its efforts to communicate with the residential propane consumer. It believes the supply and distribution issues resulting in part from a severely cold winter have only underscored the need for a corporate communications campaign. Under terms of the restriction, PERC can only participate in consumer education activities relating to research and development and safety and training. Industry efforts are under way to lift the restriction.

The campaign will utilize a package of customizable materials for marketers and state propane association executives. The materials, which include television and radio advertisements, print advertisements, a direct mail piece and bill stuffer, will highlight the strong, emotional connection between the local propane marketer and consumer. Media-buy assistance from lead vendor Swanson Russell and Partnership with States eligibility will encourage state associations to take part in the campaign, PERC says.

Cable and satellite television advertisements will run during prime time from Sept. 8 to Nov. 23 in those propane counties east of the Rockies. The council plans to unveil creative materials to the industry three weeks before the television launch.

Because ads will encourage customers to call their propane marketer, some discussion at the meeting centered on the importance of preparing marketers for those calls.

“I want to see more emphasis on really getting the marketer ready,” said Rob Freeman of Freeman Gas, which does business in four southeastern states.
The campaign also features an online strategy – deploying a campaign landing page and driving residential heating consumers to for advice on safety topics.

The council approved the following funding requests, with the principal contractor in parenthesis where applicable:

• $6,149,000 for a consumer safety preparedness campaign that will encourage residential propane customers to talk with their propane provider about the winter and develop a plan that makes sense (Swanson Russell)

• $975,000 to develop, certify and commercialize an electronic fuel injection propane engine for the commercial mower and light industrial engine markets

• $929,976 for a propane-powered golf and turf equipment demonstration program at eight golf courses nationwide (R&R Products)

• $398,000 for a national propane fuel survey program in which propane samples will be collected from selected sites across the United States and subjected to fuel-quality tests (Southwest Research). The data will help identify fuel-quality trends that could affect the performance and reliability of propane-fueled appliances, engines and vehicles, and impact PERC’s goal of increasing propane usage, according to the council.

• $300,000 for PERC’s 2014-15 Energy Pod Builder Incentive Program, designed to promote the construction of pod homes within the United States. These homes include propane equipment for space heating, water heating, cooking and other heating and power applications. The program allows eligible builders to receive up to $1,500 for building using the full Propane Energy Pod and $750 for a modified version of the pod, in exchange for builder information on the installation of the propane-fueled equipment.

• $250,000 for 2014 residential and commercial market outreach, to develop a better understanding of the rental market and its decision makers, create materials to address safety and training needs, and communicate more thoroughly with this audience (Swanson Russell)

• $210,000 for an off-road aftermarket stimulation strategy, which aims to boost certification and commercialization of aftermarket conversion kits for small engine markets, such as commercial mowers, generators, golf carts, utility/low-speed vehicles and light construction equipment (EnviroGard/Tech Services)

• $200,000 to help convert workforce training programs from Flash-based modules to an HTML5 format so the training can be used on multiple devices (Industrial Training Services)

• $153,023 for a performance evaluation and competitive analysis of a propane-fired tri-generation system that provides power (including backup power), cooling and heating (M-CoGen Inc.)

• $78,571 for 2015 Certified Employee Training Program help desk support for users who need assistance with the PERC e-learning programs (Dashe & Thomson)

There were 59 state rebate requests approved since the April meeting. Of the programs awarded, 24 included requests for Partnership with States funds. More than $2 million in state rebate funds was awarded, with an additional $534,000 in Partnership with States funding.

The council’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 6-7 in Sarasota, Fla.

A full report from PERC’s meeting in New Mexico will appear in the August issue of LP Gas.

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