Women In Propane: Forging Her Own Path Back To Family Propane Business

It would have been easy for Tori Barnett to go straight into the propane business her grandfather started in Sierra Vista, Ariz., 57 years ago and where her father, Troy Barnett, is now president. She grew up playing in the yard at Barnett’s Propane with her sister. As a teen, she assisted customers with small cylinders and worked in the office. After graduating from high school, Barnett wanted to pave her own way and prove she could achieve her own goals.
Women In Propane Profiles Tori Barnett millenial who found her way back to family propane business started by grandfather 57 years ago reports BPNShe obtained a degree in business management from Grand Canyon University and a degree in dental hygiene from Phoenix College with scholarship funds from the National Propane Gas Foundation (NPGF).

As she settled into her new career as a dental hygienist, Barnett quickly discovered what often happens to others who grow up in the industry: propane can get into your DNA. Working as a full-time dental hygienist in Sierra Vista, she continued helping out at Barnett’s Propane—coming to the office on her lunch hour and evenings. After about a year, she felt a need to spend more time in the family business.

Last year, she officially took over the human resources responsibilities for the propane company and Barnett’s Towing, a sister company also started by her grandfather. She works at the family business three days a week while continuing as a dental hygienist two days a week. She shares an office with her sister, Sabreena, who is responsible for accounts payable.

“I do enjoy it—being a dental hygienist. I always knew, though, I would come back to my family business,” she said, adding she anticipates someday being full-time at Barnett’s Propane.

“My experience as a dental hygienist has helped me become a more professional people-person and able to handle the many varieties of human interaction. My degree in business management has helped me in terms of being a more effective leader and a self-starter,” she explained.

“From a young age, being around my dad and grandfather and seeing them run this business reflects how I look at situations and run things in my role. They taught me more about business dynamics than all the schooling I have.”

In addition to its Sierra Vista office, Barnett’s Propane also has an office in Tucson and a propane island in Benson, Ariz. It offers residential, commercial, and small bottle fills, but primarily caters to residential customers—many of whom are winter visitors and live in RV parks. Of the companies’ nearly 60 employees, about 25% are primarily dedicated to the propane operation; the others work for the towing company.

“The propane and towing companies are separate entities, but we run out of the same office. Everyone is cross-trained,” she said. “I’m primarily in human resources, but in a family business, you wear a lot of hats.”

Barnett’s duties include maintaining all the employee records, providing onboarding and off-boarding, and handling the company’s social media. “I like above all creating value—coordinating and creating systems and processes—anything where I can make a positive change.”

“I want to work to provide more value for our customers and employees and keep organizing a focus for myself in the company. I’m working on developing a training module for my position and also bringing our technologies to more current times,” she said.

Being involved in a family business is not an 8-5 schedule. “I will answer emails and solve issues at all hours of the day, even if I’m not physically at work or if I’m working at my dental hygiene job. I do try to limit my work activity on the weekends, but I truly enjoy what I do and I don’t mind being active outside of office hours.”

Outside of work, Tori and her husband, Daniel, enjoy spending time working on their fixer-upper house, traveling, and taking care of their three cats.


More Community Colleges, Tech Schools Adding Propane To Curriculum

By Emily McComas…

It’s the problem on everyone’s mind: How to find and keep successful employees. Today, not having enough drivers and service technicians plagues the operation of most propane companies.

more community Colleges and tech schools adding propane service tech training to curriculums reports bpn the indsutry's leading source for news since 1939. 04-20But now a few organizations across the U.S. are turning what was once a challenge into a competitive advantage. The results: a pool of highly trained professionals with the desired skills to fill open positions, and a larger percentage of the workforce that is aware of propane’s benefits and can service its appliances.

How is this possible? By strategically inserting propane into the curriculum of local community colleges and technical schools.

One such program is used by Lenoir Community College in Kinston, N.C. The school serves students from 29 different counties, as well as some from out of state, and is a huge draw for military veterans and retirees because of three nearby military bases.

The school’s new Energy Distribution Systems Technologies program began Fall 2019 with 14 students, and 18 are signed up to start during the spring semester.

The project began when Armistead Mauck, vice president of Cherry Energy (Kinston, N.C., est. 1928), took advantage of an opportunity to talk to officials from Lenoir Community College at a manufacturer’s association luncheon in 2018.

Mauck was familiar with the school’s current HVAC program when he talked to them about adding propane to the curriculum using already available content created by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).

The Overview of Propane Distribution Systems for HVAC and Plumbing Professionals course teaches service professionals how to safely work with propane. It covers topics about vapor distribution systems, appliance installation requirements, interior gas piping installation requirements, and tests and checks.

Carlos Cotto, director, occupational extension and Latino programs for Lenoir, was immediately interested. He liked the idea of adding propane to the curriculum because it offered a fresh take on a traditional program.

“You can only do so much welding, HVAC, etc. I saw propane as being a total new venue that is connected to everything,” Cotto said.

He’d seen the value and use of propane increase in new markets and companies in the local area and believed that “eventually, it will be a product essential to everything.”

Mauck put Cotto in touch with Mike Peacock, energy sales director for Rinnai, who helped Cotto build a hands-on training facility that mimics Rinnai’s in Peachtree, Ga.

“I wanted a wow factor that would attract students to the program, and so we built a top-notch facility that now includes 12 propane products, with two commercial-specific pieces of equipment,” Cotto said.

Cotto also partnered with local companies to match the curriculum with the skills they require for new employees. This has resulted in the program producing technicians who can be hired immediately after graduating. Some companies even reimburse the new hires once they’ve been employed for six months, so the course is essentially free for the students.

This is how Cherry Energy directly benefits from the program. The first-class training center provides a place to train its current employees, and new graduates are identified as prospective employees.

“We use the community college as a feeding ground for prospective employees who have the skills we desire,” Mauck explained. “We’re seeking out those we believe are qualified by looking to graduates of this program, and once we hire them, we implement the same tools and abilities that the college trains them on. The college also works to make sure people have soft skills (having respect for customer’s homes, etc.) before they come to us.”
More community colleges and technical schools adding Overview of Propane Distribution Systems for HVAC and Plumbing Professionals curriculum to certify service techs reports bpn the leadig source for propane news since 1939. 04-2020
By taking full advantage of the process to identify candidates through an educational program that fits the company’s desired skills, Cherry Energy has created an edge over its competition.

“The objective is to do it better than anyone else and to have that competitive advantage. The only way to do that is to take control and build your own person,” he said.

The creation of more programs like this across the country would benefit the propane industry as a whole and is already doing so.

Adding propane to school curriculums ensures that graduates enter into the HVAC, electrical, and plumbing industries with a knowledge of propane and its appliances. It ensures the longevity of the industry by providing a steady stream of people to install and maintain propane appliances in the future, Mauck said.

“Without this program, the amount of knowledge that students would normally have about propane and its systems is zero,” he said. “There is a lack of skilled people to work on the great products we have.”

It also helps the propane industry compete against heat pumps and electric water heaters because plumbers and HVACs who graduate from these types of programs are familiar with propane systems and can promote them to customers.

If you would like HVAC instructors you know to learn how to teach PERC’s Overview of Propane Distribution Systems for HVAC and Plumbing Professionals course, tell them to sign up for one of three upcoming trainings: May 18-19, Ocean Springs, Miss.; June 1-2, Chicago; and June 25-26, Phoenix.

You can also download the State Trade School Outreach Toolkit on PERC’s resource catalog on propane.com to spread the word about the Overview of Propane Distribution Systems for HVAC and Plumbing Professionals curriculum. This kit includes a brochure about the course, a PowerPoint that can be customized for organizations to speak about the curriculum with schools, email copy templates, and a career day kit table top sign. https://propane.com/resource-catalog/resources/state-trade-school-outreach-toolkit/

Emily McComas is communications manager with the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC)

Propane Autogas Makes Big Inroads at Work Truck Show

(April 9, 2020) — The ongoing discussion of what fuel is best and most cost-effective to power work trucks carried over to this year’s Work Truck Show March 3-6 in Indianapolis. While talk of electric work trucks has hit a frenzy, according to most everyone who represented the propane industry, there was a strong sense among key propane vehicle stakeholders that propane would continue to have a strong niche, especially with Class 3-7 vehicles.
propane makes big inroads at 2020 Work truck show green truck summit exhibiting USPS propane autogas-fueled Ford F-750 delivery trucks refrigerated vans propane concept engine and more reports bpn 04-20
“There was plenty to share about opportunities propane brings to the table,” said Steve Whaley, director of autogas business development at the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). “Propane autogas vehicles produce [less] greenhouse gases and significantly reduce NOx emissions compared to other fuels, creating a healthier environment for employees and communities at an affordable cost to fleets.” PERC had autogas vehicles and equipment on display, including a 2020 F-250 from Alliance AutoGas and a 2019 F-750 refrigerated van from ROUSH CleanTech.

Whaley, who is new to his position at PERC, has hit the ground running with professional propane autogas experience both at ROUSH CleanTech (Livonia, Mich.) and Alliance AutoGas (Asheville, N.C.). “In my experience, I have always been focused on what type of sale is going to require more gallons of propane to be needed. We have some exciting technology that is great for air quality, and the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit has been retroactively extended to make propane vehicles an even better investment. The extension of the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit is a win for fleet managers, allowing them to further take advantage of the financial benefits of propane autogas in addition to the environmental benefits it provides fleets.” Whaley noted that even without the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit, propane autogas already offers the lowest total cost-of-ownership of any vehicle fuel, so the tax credit is icing on the cake for propane autogas fleet managers.
Propane Makes big Inroads at WTS green truck summit 2020 reports bpn 04-20
The annual Green Truck Summit, held a day prior to the Work Truck Show, featured PERC’s president and CEO, Tucker Perkins. A session titled, “Alt Fuels and Technology: Evolution Toward Zero Emissions,” was presented by Perkins, along with Dave Howell, deputy director for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office, and Michael McDonald Sr., director of sustainability and government affairs with UPS. Perkins and Whaley also shared the latest developments in the evolution toward zero emissions in separate meetings with Department of Energy (DOE) officials as well as representatives from Clean Cities Coalition.

“PERC has put funding into a project with Cummins to develop a new 6.7L purpose-built propane concept engine which now is in demonstration mode,” Whaley told BPN. “The engine is in a vehicle at a retail propane operation. We are very excited about what we are seeing so far in terms of horsepower, torque, and efficiency.” Whaley also spoke about the prospects for renewable propane, which could represent 50% of propane in the U.S. by 2040. “Renewable propane not only gets us a seat at the EV (electric vehicle) only table, but brings near zero emission with particulate matter, NOx, and now carbon intensity scoring that is far below the national levels of electricity off the grid.”
propane makes big inroads at 2020 Work truck show reports BPN the indsutry's leading source for news since 1939. 04-20
Alliance AutoGas made news at the Work Truck Show with its latest technology in a 2020 Ford F-250. The company unveiled an aftermarket autogas system for the Ford 7.3L V8 engine. The bi-fuel engine will provide an average savings of $1 per gallon on fuel and extend operating range more than 700 miles between refueling. This gives fleets an added advantage of not servicing complicated emission control systems or buying DEF fluid, as with diesel engines. “It is exciting to finally see a modern, high-torque engine in the marketplace,” said Ed Hoffman, president of Blossman Services (Swannanoa, N.C.; the distribution partner for Alliance AutoGas systems). “With our Alliance AutoGas engineering systems, this engine will offer a diesel-like performance at a fraction of the cost.”

Hoffman talked with BPN about the rampant talk of electrification that he heard at the Work Truck Show. “Once we got into discussing the details, I think people understand that the concept of electric vehicles designed for heavy-duty service is just not practical,” Hoffman said. “We saw a lot of interest in propane despite the ‘electrify everything’ talk. Consider this: if we electrify everything, does that mean propane bobtails and service trucks one day run on an electric battery? Does that make any sense?”

Todd Mouw, president of ROUSH CleanTech (Livonia, Mich.), was joined by several fleet managers in leading a session, “The Most Versatile Alternate Fuel Solution.” Topics included: why these fleet managers chose to incorporate propane autogas vehicles into their existing fleet; how this alternative fuel works for fleets of their size; and what challenges they faced and benefits they’ve experienced due to this affordable fuel.

“One of our big accomplishments this year is the sale of eight propane autogas-fueled Ford F-750 delivery trucks to McAbee Trucking, which does contract delivery for the United States Postal Service (USPS),” Mouw said. “This is the first time that U.S. postal packages are being delivered by propane autogas trucks.” As for potential, there are nearly 10,000 USPS box trucks like these that really pile on the miles and Mouw is confident things are going well with the McAbee trucks.

“Propane is really a great fit for the size and duty cycle of the trucks we use in our business,” said Lisa McAbee, owner of McAbee Trucking, who joined ROUSH CleanTech at the Work Truck Show. Mouw credited staff member Dylan Kyle as well as PERC’s Whaley for developing the relationship with McAbee in fall 2019. Mouw told BPN, “Through discussions, it became clear that Lisa McAbee was willing to be a change agent and give propane a chance to make a big difference in the success of her business.”

Each of McAbee’s propane trucks is equipped with a Ford 6.8L V10 engine and ROUSH CleanTech propane system, which is 90% cleaner than the Environmental Protection Agency’s most stringent heavy-duty emission standards, according to ROUSH. With the unveiling of the new propane delivery trucks at the Work Truck Show, ROUSH CleanTech received Heavy Duty Trucking’s Top 20 Award for the second year in a row. This award recognizes the company’s near-zero emissions vehicles.
Propane is the clean fuel of choice at 2020 work truck show green truck summit exhibiting USPS propane autogas-fueled Ford F-750 delivery trucks F-250 refrigerated vans and more reports bpn 04-20
ROUSH CleanTech, an exhibitor at the Work Truck Show since 2009, continued to talk to some of the potential customers in businesses that have done well with propane vehicles. “Many in distribution of products that typically use Class 4-7 vehicles such as water, beverage, wine, and food distribution are typical of prospects we are talking to. School districts are continuing to expand the propane vehicle market share,” Mouw said. “New factors are making companies take a closer look at propane vehicles. The introduction of renewable propane, new technology such as air brakes for propane vehicles, lower emissions, and low prices for propane are factors working to our advantage.”
Propane makes big inroads at work truck show 2020 reports BPN the propane industry's leading source for news since 1939. 04-2020
As for challenges, Mouw feels that it remains human nature for many to be resistant to change. “As an industry, we have not done our best to talk to local stakeholders and personally pound home the message of all the benefits propane can provide that represent significant solutions to customer needs. Nonetheless, we are definitely making progress.”

Throughout the Work Truck Show, PERC asked attendees to bring to the booth a token that was mailed to them prior to the show. Each token represents a $5 donation that PERC will make on each attendee’s behalf to a nonprofit organization that supports respiratory health in the United States. An announcement on the recipient organization and the amount of that donation is expected this spring. Whaley explained, “By donating to a nonprofit dedicated to improving respiratory health for Americans, we’re furthering our mission for cleaner air in the U.S. Stay tuned.” — Pat Thornton

Speaking Up For Propane — A Clean American Energy

(April 6, 2020) — When Ben McWhorter of Sequoia Gas Co. learned that a plan was being developed to phase out the use of natural gas and propane in Arcata, Calif., he made sure others in the community learned this too. While the proposal was still being discussed in the energy committee that advises the city council, he made a presentation to the council. City council meetings can be watched live and viewed on demand on television and on the city’s website, so he knew he would reach an audience far beyond those in the room.
Sequoia Gas Company Family owned propane company since 1930
Sequoia Gas has offices in Arcata and Fortuna, Calif., and McWhorter is the Fortuna branch manager. Before making the presentation, he reached out to others. He went to two large businesses in the area—one a user of propane within the city and the other a user of natural gas just outside the city—to see if they knew about this proposal. They didn’t, and immediately said they were willing to get involved. He also called a city council member he knew had lived in a remote area and used propane. She invited him make the presentation before the council.

Having received that invitation, McWhorter began work on the presentation, “Propane Infrastructure in a Renewable Future.” He found the Western Propane Gas Association (WPGA) to be a great source of information and advice. WPGA had informed him of what the committee in Arcata was considering and provided data for his presentation. “Any marketers that are not involved in their association are missing out on an opportunity to give back and to know what’s going on,” McWhorter tells BPN. “We have to stay engaged.”

During the Feb. 5 meeting of the Arcata city council, he opened the presentation by introducing himself as the third generation of a family-run propane business in the county in which Arcata is located. He outlined the number of people in the country and in the state who use propane; the applications for which propane is used; and the affordability, reliability, and clean energy of propane.

He noted that Sequoia Gas has only about 30 customers in the city, because the city is fed by natural gas, but that those customers need propane. The city’s largest user of propane is a manufacturer that uses propane for space heating and in its manufacturing process. Other users are restaurants. He also noted a growing interest in backup generators.

Concluding his presentation, McWhorter said, “I think Arcata residents deserve access to a diverse energy portfolio. I think that they should be able to choose the energy choices that they would like, and that they can really afford. Propane is clean, it’s reliable, and it’s affordable. And it’s also a non-methane gas, which natural gas is. Propane can provide uninterrupted energy at a cheaper rate than electricity and can serve as a primary fuel or complement to solar and other things.”

Following McWhorter’s presentation, the mayor of Arcata, whose profession is energy engineer, said, “My long-term goal, and the council adopted related goals a year ago, was to phase out the use of natural gas, not to phase out the use of propane. We need to treat these two fuels very differently.” He added, “I see an important complementary role of propane to renewable energy, as you pointed out, and I don’t see that for natural gas.” Later, the mayor concluded, “In my ideal future, I actually see a role for propane in Arcata, and growth of use of propane within Arcata, and having it as an important complement, especially for people who choose to use a gaseous fuel for cooking in restaurants or in individual homes. So my target is natural gas rather than going after or being hostile to propane.”

While the response was good—and McWhorter thanked the mayor for these comments—there are more meetings to come as the energy committee develops a proposed ordinance and then hands it to the city council for a vote. McWhorter says he will stay engaged. In the meantime, he has succeeded in making others in the community aware of the proposed ban.

“These meetings are televised, so everyone can watch it,” McWhorter tells BPN. “It’s a good opportunity to get the word out that this is something the city is thinking about. People don’t get engaged until it is something that affects them. We think banning natural gas will get people fired up.”

Summing up his experience in the political arena so far, he says, “When you’re a small company going in a hundred directions at once, and it’s wintertime and you’re delivering propane and setting tanks, it’s hard to get out of the office and get engaged. But we all have to get together, represent our industry, and be in the room when these decisions are being made. It takes time, but you have to meet people and stay engaged.”

McWhorter’s presentation can be viewed on the City of Arcata’s website, within the video of the Feb. 5 regular meeting of the city council (his presentation starts at the 54:30 mark in the video): http://arcataca.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=3061&Format=Minutes. — Steve Relyea

NPGA Board’s Agenda: Eliminating Roadblocks, Helping Industry Thrive

(April 3, 2020) — In recent months, the industry has faced several challenges having to do with decarbonization and has scored several successes positioning propane as clean energy. These were among the many issues reported on during the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) Board of Directors Meeting held Feb. 11, 2020 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

At the meeting, Steve Kaminski delivered his first president’s report. In it, he highlighted some of the work the association
has done since he became its president and CEO in late October.

He began by defining what NPGA should mean to the propane industry: “We should eliminate roadblocks to help your business thrive,” Kaminski said. “If there are roadblocks we need to eliminate that we don’t know about, let us know. You direct NPGA, not the other way around, so your feedback is what I value most.”

Among the association’s achievements he listed were the following:

Alternative Fuel Tax Credit: The AFTC has been extended from Jan. 1, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2020. “For the first time, NPGA has provided an official guidance on how to claim the credit,” Kaminski reported. “Share it with your tax advisor.”

HUD Final Rule: The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has published a final rule incorporating an NPGA-advocated regulation interpretation. HUD had originally proposed that for a home to be eligible for certain federally-backed home loans, a propane tank of up to only 250 gallons could be within 300 feet. “We upped that to 1000 gallons, if it complies with NFPA 58,” Kaminski said. “This was four years in the making, and it came to fruition two weeks ago.”

Decarbonization: Gas bans are being debated in more than 100 cities and counties nationwide. NPGA is focusing its efforts in this space by creating a “stopgap toolkit” of materials to use to counteract these bills right away; working with PERC on a comprehensive long-term plan to tackle this growing issue; and supporting legislative action to counteract these bills—three states are considering bills that would prohibit municipalities from imposing such bans. Those states are Arizona, Minnesota, and Tennessee. (As of this writing, the bill in Arizona has passed.) “We have done our homework on decarbonization and started to take significant action,” Kaminski said.

Apprenticeships: NPGA has collaborated with PERC on the development of registered apprenticeship programs for drivers and service technicians. The association will administer the programs.

Collaboration: In the past month, NPGA has secured a position as a member of the National Clean Energy Week Steering Committee, has re-secured a previously-vacated position on the National Oil and Natural Gas Subsector Coordinating Council, and has “re-engaged in a meaningful way” with the World LPG Association (WLPGA), Kaminski said. At a WLPGA event held the week before the NPGA board of directors meeting, he made three presentations.

Regulations: NPGA staff have undertaken “a massive set of initiatives” having to do with regulations. Among the issues they are addressing are gas bans, reach codes, carbon labeling, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) index rate for interstate liquids pipelines, and the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program. Staff will also be working on the 2023 edition of NFPA 58. “There are tons of other regulatory programs we are addressing too,” Kaminski added.

Concluding his report, Kaminski thanked those who have furthered his education about the industry since his appointment was announced last fall. “I want to give a big thanks to NPGA staff and the executive committee for getting me up to speed.”

Energy of the Future
Earlier in the meeting, NPGA chair Randy Thompson focused on the climate change debate and the industry’s growing participation in it.
Randy Thompson NPGA chairman and board members address roadblocks to propane industry at feb 2020 board meeting reports BPN the LPG industry leading source for new since 1939
“We want a future for our industry, and propane is an energy of the future,” the founder and senior advisor at ThompsonGas LLC said while presenting the chair’s report. “The climate change debate is real. We can’t have our heads in the sand; we must stay engaged.”

Thompson reported that NPGA and PERC have been working on climate change messaging. He added that both groups have research resources that are available to members of the industry. “If you need help, call us,” he added. He concluded that in the climate change debate, the propane industry needs to keep putting forth a positive message.

“We are a small industry, so we need to have a big attitude,” Thompson said. “We need to believe we can win—and we can. We are the bedrock of America. Propane is the cleanest energy. We have a compelling story. We should be proud of the industry we serve. Let’s go and sell the message that propane is a fuel of the future.”

Successes in the Host State
At the beginning of the meeting, the executive director of the Arizona Propane Gas Association (APGA) shared recent successes seen in the state that was hosting the event. Presenting the introduction to the board of directors meeting, Barry Aarons highlighted three news items.

First, a bill was introduced in Arizona that would prevent municipalities from passing laws mandating the use of a single source of energy. Aarons said he expected the bill to pass and the governor to sign it into law. “The natural gas association came to us to form a coalition and ensure propane would be included,” he added. (During the week after the NPGA board of directors meeting, on Feb. 21, Gov. Doug Ducey did indeed sign the bill into law.)

Second, over a three-year period, a program in one county has distributed 2997 vouchers for discounts toward the purchase of new propane fire pits. The Propane Fire Pit Program was created to reduce air pollution caused by outdoor wood burning in fire pits. It was created by the Maricopa County Air Quality Department in partnership with APGA and Home Depot. “It is important that we work with environmental agencies to remove particulates from the air,” Aarons said.

Third, the Arizona Commerce Authority has reversed a policy that it wouldn’t declare parcels “ready for development” if they were more than 50 miles away from natural gas lines. After APGA went to the Authority and explained that its members can deliver propane, Aarons said, those parcels now can be developed “based solely on the availability of propane.” — Steve Relyea