Request for Proposals: Fleet-Based Alternative fuel Deployments in Kansas/Missouri

(July 29, 2020) — The Kansas City Regional and Central Kansas Clean Cities Coalitions, programs of the Metropolitan Energy Center (MEC), have issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) to support the deployment of new alternative fueling vehicles and/or refueling stations for fleet-based deployments; and/or to build additional capacity into existing fleets alternative fueling infrastructure.
kc ck clean cities

The goal of Metropolitan Energy Center is to increase the use and acceptance of clean alternatives to gasoline and diesel, to leverage business and community relationships to make such investments possible, and to provide shared fueling arrangements as applicable to a specific fueling site or sites.  

MEC has allocated a maximum $1,014,377 in federal funding to support a minimum total project cost of $2,254,170. MEC anticipates making up to 4 awards. 

A grant from the US Department of Energy will provide up to 45% of funding for the purchase of propane autogas vehicles, and/or station equipment and installation costs by the successful applicant.

The deadline for submitting proposals to the Metropolitan Energy Center has been extended until August 14, 2020, at 2:00pm CST.

For more information, viist https://metroenergy.org/resources/funding-opportunities/rfp-afv17/

Distributor Reacts To New Norms With Product Mix, Training

Reacting to the changing needs of customers has never been more important than it has been in the last few months. For a company whose customers are contractors, the pandemic has brought about changes in both the products that are selling and the ways product training must be delivered.
Covid-19 pandemic skyrocketing sales of propane indoor appliances and outdoor living products Hearth per REMichel reports BPN
“Our priorities go where the customers are; we run to what people want,” says Ray Kazakewich, national LPG manager at R.E. Michel Co. (Glen Burnie, Md.), a wholesale distributor serving professional contractors. “It seems every week, we have to react to different norms—not just in business, but in everything—and that certainly translates into our business.”

For one thing, he says, there has been a shift in demand of products. “The mix of products and inventory has been a little different. We’ve had to react.”

Among the indoor products handled by professional contractors, sales of space heaters, furnaces, and water heaters are up, while luxury products are down. “It’s human nature to go to the core during times of crisis,” Kazakewich says. “People strip things down to the essentials.”

Among the outdoor products, outdoor heaters and pyrotechnic design appliances such as tiki torches are up, driven by demand from commercial customers. Speaking from Maryland in early June, Kazakewich said restaurants were only allowed to seat people outdoors or sell them meals to go. As the weather was warming up, he said, “We don’t need outdoor heating now, but we did just last week.”

Another thing that has had to change due to the pandemic is the delivery of training. R.E. Michel Co. has moved its training online. That includes both its own employee training, in which the company’s own people are updated on regulatory and technical changes, and its customer training, which includes both regulatory changes and best practices. Customer training includes two types: the company’s own direct training to customers and training in which the company’s supplier partners deliver training to its customers on its behalf.

“We used to bring training to the customer, in person, but now that has gone to Zoom training and YouTube training,” Kazakewich reports. “We release a link to customers and they can tune in at their leisure. There’s not a set time; they can do it whenever they want.

“A lot of them are getting in the habit,” he adds. “We let them know what is available, and they go through it like a menu. The customers want variety, not a cookie-cutter approach. So, our training is customized to their needs. If customers have their own policies and procedures manual, which they do, our training has to align with that.”

New training is released in advance of the season for which it is needed. As a new season approaches, bringing with it demand for different products, R.E. Michel Co. puts out the word about training, promotions, and sales around the relevant products, 30 days before the customers will want those products.

“Our training changes as the season changes; it is relevant to what our customers are talking about,” Kazakewich says. “Right now, we are shifting gears to the inside of the house. From the end of June, hearth and primary heat are what go out the door.”

The pandemic has created opportunities for companies that are prepared to deal with the unexpected, when their competitors are not.

“It has been an interesting year,” Kazakewich concluded. “We always try to be proactive, not reactive, but we’re kind of forced into reacting now because things keep changing. But we are prepared; we expect the unexpected.” — Steve Relyea

Insurance Headlines: “Premiums Are Going Up”

By Frank Thompson… The email on June 10 from “Property and Casualty 360” ruined my day: Insurance “carriers are faced with claims related to cybersecurity, COVID-19, the riots and demonstrations, tornados, flooding, and the economy.”
Propane Insurance Premiums Scheduled to increase 2021 reports BPN 072720

What they were trying to tell their readers is simply that insurance premiums are going up. There is no more “soft” insurance marketplace where one could expect a reduction in premium from the prior year; in most cases, the insurance renewal premiums are going to increase substantially.

Let’s take a look at how each of the above perils is impacting the insurance industry.

COVID-19 hit, for most businesses, the middle of March. By the beginning of April, most states were in lockdown, with businesses required to either close their doors or have people work from home. Many businesses with property insurance carried a coverage called Business Income and Extra Expense. (I wrote about it in the May issue.)

In the article, I quoted the wording from most policies and suggested that COVID-19, a virus, probably would not trigger coverage. However, if a marketer felt that they had a claim, they should turn any potential claim in to their insurance company and let them decide if they are going to pay the claim.
While that is good advice based on the policy wording, the problem is that thousands of lawsuits have been filed against the insurance companies, alleging that there is coverage. The result is expensive litigation, no matter what the courts decide.

With businesses forced to have people working from home because of the virus, internet security breaches have risen over 40% since April. The tremendous rise in cybercrimes is costing everyone, including those that have purchased cyber liability.

A cyber breach means that business owners already stretched financially due to the lockdown are forced to spend time and resources to fix the breach and mitigate the damages. While some of them may have bought Cyber Liability, the result may well be a costly claim for the insurance company as well as wasted time and resources by the business owner trying to fix problems caused by the breach.

In the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, we have experienced human tragedy. Trying to remedy the problems has led to demonstrations, some of which have turned violent and led to burning and looting. Insurance policies generally cover riots, civil commotion, and vandalism, but the resulting claims impact the insurance companies’ bottom line.

The other peril covered under the property policy is tornados. I was reminded of that on May 16, when a client called us in shock, saying, “My building is gone. There is nothing left but the concrete slab.” I was glad he and his family were all okay, but his building was gone. We were happy that we had the coverage to help him rebuild. However, these weather-related disasters also negatively affect the insurance companies.

Looking a little further, the COVID-19 virus and subsequent closing of business has meant that over 30 million small businesses were forced to close in April and May. Many of them will never reopen. This has drastically affected the entire economy, putting millions out of work and causing a massive ripple effect that has hurt everyone, including the insurance industry.

Reading the news and talking to friends in the insurance business, I am told that many insurance agencies that insure small and middle market commercial business have lost from 30% to 70% of that business. Following the progression further, the loss of that business has negatively impacted insurance companies. Business owners are unable to pay their insurance premiums, and in many cases have had to cancel all their coverage, with no hope of restarting.

The net result for propane marketers and other essential businesses is, where once pricing was based primarily on the individual marketer’s loss ratio, now the biggest criteria for pricing is the worldwide pandemic and its repercussions; economic and social unrest; the weather; and the courts’ decisions.
We wish everyone continued good health and wisdom as we all face the future.

Frank B. Thompson is a chartered property and casualty underwriter based in Phoenix. He is the owner of PT Risk Management, an independent insurance company specializing in writing propane and petroleum risk policies throughout the U.S.

Outdoor Portable Propane Heaters: Great Way To Extend Outdoor Dining

As restaurants, country clubs, and other hospitality businesses reopen and adapt to restrictions on indoor seating, many will be making greater use of outdoor spaces. Adding outdoor seating also requires providing heat for diners’ comfort, to extend the seasons and the hours that these outdoor facilities can operate.
COVID 19 Has Excelerated Uptake Of Outdoor Living Projects With New Propane outdoor heaters, appliances and Hearth Products extend outdoor activity season for Americans

For propane marketers, this creates an opportunity to provide a solution in the form of portable propane heaters. For each customer in the hospitality industry, the marketers can provide a complete package of products, fuel, and service.

“The propane marketer can be a real asset to hospitality businesses by helping them open safely and stay in business by expanding their outdoor spaces, by keeping customers warm,” says Pete Arnold. “Propane umbrella-domed heaters are a great solution for those who need outdoor heat.”

Arnold is president of AEI Corp. (Irvine, Calif.), which has been a distributor of outdoor cooking and patio heating products for consumers and commercial customers since 1966. The products distributed by AEI include Sunglo and Patio Comfort outdoor infrared patio heaters. Sunglo is a line of super-duty heaters for commercial use; Patio Comfort is a line of value-priced heaters that are not as heavy duty, but still heavier than those found in big-box stores.

He explains that a high-quality, freestanding, umbrella domed heater generally provides a 12-ft to 15-ft circle of heat. For outdoor use, infrared heat is superior to heat provided by a flame. A flame heats the surrounding air and the heat rises; infrared rays warm people and objects, not the air. Arnold explains that it’s like the sun’s rays; if people are in the sun, not the shade, they will feel the warmth.

An advantage of propane-fueled units is that they are fully portable. “You can move the heat to where the people are; you don’t have to move the people to where the heat is,” Arnold notes. Another advantage is that propane-fueled units are generally the lowest-initial cost solution for outdoor heat. Upfront costs are lower than permanently installed heaters powered by natural gas or electricity.

Propane marketers providing this solution can profit by selling or leasing a reliable product; providing onsite service, if needed; and delivering the propane. They will generally lease the heaters for $50 to $75 a month; charge for full maintenance; and provide cylinder exchange for $15 to $25.

Propane marketers can either sell or lease the heaters to commercial customers. When selecting the heaters to carry, they should look for products that are safe, effective, and durable. They should also select a supplier that is in business 365 days a year; is covered by liability insurance; supplies product, sales, and service training; and provides immediate availability of parts.

Marketers can provide onsite service for the heaters, if needed. To do so, they will need to have ready access to parts. “Replacement parts are critical,” Arnold says. “Restaurant owners want the heater fixed today. If the heater doesn’t work, customers are going to be cold and the restaurant is not going to be able to seat customers in outdoor spaces.”

Once the heaters are in use, the marketer can provide the propane cylinder exchange. Outdoor portable propane heaters use 20-lb cylinders that are housed in their base. A high-quality heater generating maximum infrared rays will consume between 40,000 Btus and 45,000 Btus per hour. A 20-lb propane cylinder holds 400,000 Btus. So, the cylinder will fuel 10 hours of use. If a restaurant uses the heaters from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every evening, each heater will need a refill every two days. “If they have a dozen heaters, that is a significant opportunity for propane marketers,” Arnold notes.

“We believe that even when the pandemic passes, eating outdoors will be a continuing trend as well as a continuing opportunity for marketers to provide the product, fuel, and service,” he concludes. “We think customers will want to stay outdoors and stay warm.” — Steve Relyea

Propane Gas Fireplaces Offer Contemporary Looks, Modern Features

As people spend more time at home, many are browsing websites and looking for ways to upgrade their surroundings. So says Richard Constant, a product specialist at Bergquist Inc. (Toledo, Ohio), a wholesale propane equipment distributor. His areas of expertise include fireplace and gas hearth products as well as outdoor products.

“With people staying at home, they are getting tired of looking at the same thing,” he says. “They are ready to update.”

Many are choosing to update by modernizing their indoor fireplace. “It looks like we’re moving into a contemporary look and operation of the fireplace,” Constant reports. “There’s more emphasis on higher-end direct-vent fireplace inserts. People are also remodeling—tearing out the old brick-and-masonry units to gut and redo them.”
propane gas fireplaces and Hearths offer Contemporary looks and convenient new features says product specialist at Bergquist Inc. leading propane product distributor july 2020

A contemporary look generally includes a clean, open front, with little trim and no louvers. It also includes an open flame or a rock or pebble option, rather than the traditional-looking gas log. Another contemporary option is LED lights that deliver under-lighting that fades in and out. “The new units look a lot classier,” Constant says. “They are not obtrusive. They are still a focal point, but they’re not flashy.”

Contemporary operation of an indoor fireplace means remote control. Today’s remote controls can light the pilot and change the flame height. A thermostat is available for consumers who use the fireplace for space heating as well as ambience.

The contemporary look is popular for outdoor fireplaces, too. Here, a common choice is to have the burner pan set in rock or bricks. Another option is to have a fireplace that is open on both sides, so it is see-through. “That makes it a real focal point and a gathering place,” Constant says.

Both outdoor and indoor fireplaces are available in many styles, including the contemporary and the traditional looks. What sells varies by market. Since a local retailer can’t stock and display everything, he recommends keeping in touch with builders in order to decide which products to handle.

“Not everything works in every region, so I’d recommended working with builders,” he says. “Builders can tell you what is popular.”

To promote the products to consumers, he says, “you need to keep it local.” Local radio and TV are great options for those selling and installing these products. So is a Facebook page for the business.

There’s also a right time to advertise: “For fireplace and outdoor heating products, the season runs from late spring, early summer to Christmastime. If they don’t put it in by the first of the year, they put it off until spring.”

“There’s a huge market out there,” Constant concludes. “A lot of it goes through the internet, though, so you have to go out and get the business.” — Steve Relyea