Puerto Rico’s dominant retailer continuously finds unique opportunities

July 14, 2014 By    

Natural gas has no presence as a heating fuel in Puerto Rico, says Ramon Gonzalez, vice president of Empire Gas Co. Inc., and it’s unlikely to emerge as a dominant heating fuel anytime soon on the island.

So what is the dominant heating fuel in Puerto Rico? Propane, of course.

Empire Gas Co. Inc.

Empire Gas has 40 transports and 100 bobtails.

“We designed and made a pipeline system but for propane,” Gonzalez says.

Empire Gas, which sells more than 5 million retail gallons per month and is by far the dominant retailer on the island, developed much of the infrastructure in Puerto Rico over the last 47 years that’s propelled propane to its top billing there. Empire Gas receives propane each month by ship, and the company has 20 million gallons worth of storage space.

Heating in Puerto Rico isn’t necessarily the same as heating in the U.S., though. Heating in Puerto Rico’s tropical climate largely means heating water in various applications.

“Propane is the primary fuel for boilers,” says Jose Sisco, who is a project director and responsible for corporate safety at Empire Gas. “That’s the future of the LPG industry in Puerto Rico. Because [natural gas] is not a reliable source here, the best fuel for industrial use is LPG.”

Empire Gas, which was founded in 1967, experienced tremendous growth in the late 1980s and early 1990s, moving from about 24 million gallons per year to 60 million annual gallons sold during that period. Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was rapidly developing during that time, and a number of commercial and residential opportunities presented themselves to the company.

Now, Empire Gas is providing propane to about 90 percent of the fast food restaurants in Puerto Rico for cooking, hot water heater and boiler needs, Gonzalez says, and shopping malls and other commercial businesses rely largely on propane through Empire Gas.

“If you plan a shopping center with buildings, we can design the complete pipeline using propane,” Gonzalez says. “We serve the larger franchises on the island – McDonald’s, Burger King, Popeyes, Chili’s and Ponderosa – and we serve 90 percent of the shopping centers with food courts. All of them have one central tank; we take care of all the installation steps from design to final permits and construction.”

Autogas is the next propane-related frontier for Empire Gas.

“We have converted 2,000 cars already from gasoline to propane,” Gonzalez says. “We have three shops to do it, and we’re in discussions with two other ones.”

Empire Gas’ goal is to convert 2,000 more vehicles to autogas in the next year.

“We just started the first conversions in Puerto Rico for UPS,” Gonzalez says. “They’re on a trial basis for 60 days, and if everything’s OK they’re going to convert their trucks on the road. We already have on board most of the public corporations like the water works, [electric], police departments.”

COMPANY: Empire Gas Co. Inc.

LOCATION: San Juan, Puerto Rico

FOUNDED: 1967

EMPLOYEES: 500

CUSTOMERS: 400,000 residential; 1,800 commercial; 100 industrial

PROPANE SALES: 72 million annual retail gallons, plus 30 million annual wholesale gallons

ONLINE: www.empiregaspr.com

Photo: Empire Gas Co.

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the senior editor of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at kyanik@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3724.

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