Propane Conversation Follow Up and Q&A

There has been a lot of active conversation on campus and on social media since yesterday’s announcement about the College’s current propane shortage and its related voluntary conservation efforts. As a Christian college community, we have appreciated the expressions of collaboration, understanding and support as we seek to responsibly tackle the challenges of the extreme cold weather together during the next several days.

We have also observed the need for some additional clarification and information. Below is a Q&A that the College has created to try to answer some of the questions that we have been hearing.

Is the propane shortage occurring because the College didn’t order enough propane or isn’t willing to buy an additional supply?

The current challenge that Messiah is facing is related to the reduced supply of propane in the Northeast in the volume at which the campus uses this source of energy. It is not a cost or planning issue.

Messiah College annually enters a contract to purchase at least 500,000 gallons of propane a year. This quantity is based on past annual usage and average winter temperatures and has historically been enough supply. Without this annual contract, the College might actually have experienced more severe issues when the region has supply-and-demand issues. The challenge this year (and last) is rooted in record-cold temperatures which has affected the availability to our supplier from their suppliers to get propane to Messiah College at our contracted levels.

Why can’t the College just purchase propane from other regional suppliers?

The College works with various larger propane vendors that can help meet our needs of 30,000 to 40,000 gallons per week. In fact, due to the regional shortage, we are already supplementing our current propane supply with some of these alternate vendors. However, as an institutional customer, the College has volume demands and complex liability, safety/compliance issues that residential customers do not face. Many of the propane companies in the area cannot supply propane in volume enough to meet our needs. Most local firms can meet the needs of residential homes which get a typical range of 200-300 gallons for a month. By comparison, the College uses more propane in a week then they may typically distribute in a month.

It is important to know that Messiah’s director of facility services and the vice president of operations have been, and continue to be in, active ongoing conversations with suppliers in the area who can meet the volume and institutional liability/safety needs of the College.

Is it true there’s no hot water on campus?

It is not accurate that there is no hot water on campus; currently all campus facilities have hot water.

How is the College going to regulate its request that students and employees living on campus take shorter showers?

The College’s request that students and employees residents help to conserve energy by reducing shower lengths, being mindful of other hot water usage, etc., is a voluntary, short-term conservation measure. The College in no way is regulating this request, but rather, asking for cooperation.

By asking students and employees to voluntary conserve their hot water usage in the short-term, it is our goal to ensure continued hot water availability for everyone through the next several days we anticipate a return to normal temperatures and supply.

I’ve heard that the College is not currently offering hot food service on campus. Is that accurate?

No, that is not accurate. The College continues to provide hot food service and menus in Lottie Nelson Dining Room and The Falcon. The only short-term change communicated in the College’s announcement was that the Union Café in the Larsen Student Union will temporarily serve a more limited menu of deli and grab-and-go items (due to the significant amount of propane that is used in the union.) So this temporary menu change in the Union Café allows the College to conserve significant energy while at the same time continuing food service to students and employees in that location.

Will these conservation measures extend past the Saturday, Feb. 28 timeframe communicated in the original email?

At this time, the College anticipates that its current conservation efforts will be sufficient to carry us through the Saturday, Feb. 28 timeframe communicated in the original announcement. If the temperatures increase as predicted this weekend, the amount of propane we use will decrease and we should be able to bring campus operations back to normal. This should also better regulate the supply and demand in the region as well.

If there is any change to this timeframe, the College will communicate as soon as possible to students and employees.