INDIANAPOLIS - Ninety-three Hoosiers overcharged on propane will be among the first to get a refund, now that the Indiana attorney general's office has settled with Jasper County-based Ashland Propane Demotte.
The northwest Indiana company will make nearly $20,000 in restitution to its customers and pay an extra $30,500 to the state to cover the expense of future consumer protection enforcement, education and litigation.
The state investigation found that Ashland had signed contracts with some of its consumers to supply propane at about $1.49 per gallon through April 2014.
When propane prices spiked in January due to a cold winter, the company did not follow its contract and charged its customers up to $4.79 per gallon -- more than three times the agreed-upon price.
The Call 6 Investigators have been tracking this consumer problem since we began receiving complaints of price gouging.
Nearly 500,000 people use propane statewide.
In January, the Attorney General's office was looking at complaints in which people named 72 separate businesses.
That number was lowered as investigators determined the providers' supplier and who owns them.
In many cases, it was found that the propane pricing, much like gasoline, was driven by market forces.
For example, a wet fall 2013 forced farmers to use propane to dry their crops, which decreased the supply as the demand went up with an extremely cold winter.
In the wake of the complaints, the attorney general's office set up a hotline to help people connect with propane availability at the time, and the office began reviewing complaints.