By KAY MATTHEWS
Here’s the “My Turn” I recently contributed to the Taos News detailing my battles with the propane company AmeriGas:
“Dear Taos County Citizens,
Welcome to the world of corporate raiding, via AmeriGas. Many Taos area customers who depend upon propane for cooking, water heat, and home heat got a rude awakening four years ago when the former New Mexico Propane (and prior to that, Adobe Propane) company was bought up by AmeriGas, which proceeded to increase prices above other local propane servers and extend delivery dates. Many of us are locked into AmeriGas because we rent our tanks from the company and are unable to purchase gas from other providers. For two years in a row I called up the local office and complained, to no avail.
Then things got worse. They closed the Taos office, fired the longtime employees, and forced all customers to order online. On November 21, I made an online order but was unable to communicate via the website that I needed to expedite it as I had below 10 percent capacity. There is no place on the website to address any individual questions or issues. So I tried calling them. The local phone number on our invoices and on their website is a Taos-based number but it now sends you to some central call center in anywhere USA where it is impossible to speak with a person. The recorded message states that they’ve implemented a new voice identification system to better serve their customers. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t understand anything you say. You then must wait until they say, OK, let’s try another way and you can punch in a number to get to a specific service. When you get there you’re informed that there is a wait time of over 80 minutes. I actually kept the phone on speaker for two hours one day until a person answered. I explained my issue and she said, “I’ll transfer you to that department” and I begged, “No, no” but she did anyway and the wait time was again over 80 minutes. I hung up.
AmeriGas failed to deliver my gas during the estimated time frame. It took them 13 days. In the meantime, I called up local Pendleton Propane, filed an application, and the technician came to inspect my system and arrange for renting me a tank the next day—at a much cheaper price than AmeriGas. What all this demonstrates is that the rationales corporations use to convince us that they will make our lives more efficient and save us money if we consolidate, go national, or go global, are lies. It only reinforces what we already know: we must support local.”
Soon after this appeared I began receiving emails and phone calls from other Taos area customers that detailed their woes with the company. A Town of Taos resident wrote to say that his entire neighborhood was serviced by New Mexico Propane, which was then bought by AmeriGas, which then doubled the price of propane. After finding out there is no government agency that regulates propane, his entire neighborhood opted to buy their tanks from AmeriGas—for $700 each—so they would be free to use local suppliers. Several people from Llano San Juan told me how difficult it was to get AmeriGas to fill their tanks when low (it took 14 days for one customer). They all agreed the company has been horribly negligent, as this is a public health and safety issue.
Ironically, while I was trying to get my gas delivered, I got a mass email from the CEO of AmeriGas, Hugh Gallagher, entitled “Dear Valued Customer.” Mr. Gallagher proceeded to tell me, “At AmeriGas, our commitment to serving customers runs deep and our team is dedicated to keeping your household powered with propane. Our goal is to exceed our customers’ expectations.” He then acknowledged that “in recent months some of our customers have had trouble reaching us” but he assured us that they are doing everything in their power to fix this, such as adding “customer experience agents” to cut down on wait times.
But his final so-called “fix,” as it is for all corporations that consolidate their networks and close down local offices, is to force customers to contact them by setting up accounts via the Internet. You can see from my letter how well this solved all our problems out here in the hinterland. Without access to a person, in an office in one’s own community, we’re all subjected to the depersonalization and anomie of global corporatization.
AmeriGas’s history epitomizes this pattern of corporate overreach and customer under-reach. It’s the largest retail propane marketer and distributor in the U.S., headquartered in King of Prussia (!), Pennsylvania. It was acquired in 2019 by UGI Corporation, which is a multi-billion dollar natural gas and electric power distribution company, also headquartered in King of Prussia but global in its reach: it also owns European gas companies.
In January 2012, AmeriGas acquired Heritage Propane from Energy Transfer Partners for approximately $1.46 billion in cash and $1.32 billion in common units and the assumption of debt. Energy Transfer Partners is the Dallas-based company that owns 36.4 percent interest in Dakota Access LLC, which is the company responsible for developing the Dakota Access Pipeline, protested by the Standing Rock Indian Reservation during the water protectors’ camp in 2016.
AmeriGas’s national reputation is no better than it’s New Mexican one. It first appeared on the PissedConsumer website in 2007 and ranks 165 of 1,149 in the Utility category. The overall rating of the company is 1.4 stars out of 5. The ConsumerAffairs website is full of dissatisfied customer complaints. Here’s one example:
“Original review: Dec. 1, 2020:
This is the worst gas company. They have not filled the tank for 3 months. We ran out of gas on Thanksgiving weekend. No heat, no hot water, no cooking. Hours on the phone. They say they will deliver then they don’t. Going on 3 days now. Horrible customer service. DO NOT USE THIS COMPANY. SONOMA COUNTY CA IS A MESSED UP OFFICE.”
Fortunately, we have alternatives to AmeriGas in northern New Mexico: Pendleton, Kit Carson, Ferrell, and Pacheco all serve Taos area customers. If you’re ready to change providers, don’t buy the AmeriGas tank that you’ve been renting: you can purchase a used tank from the other companies or find your own tank online. AmeriGas will pick up and remove its old tank. Or maybe it won’t. Mine has been sitting outside under the tree where Pendleton moved it when it rented me its used tank. I’m hard pressed to think of a more pathetically inept company than AmeriGas. Good luck to all who wish to bid it goodbye.