Superior Plus Energy Services runs a fleet of 150 propane bobtails and 250 fuel oil tankwagons serving customers throughout eight northeastern states

Superior Plus Energy Services stands ready to handle winter’s heating demands

Sept. 6, 2016
Find propane and heating oil distributor in northeastern United States, Superior Plus Energy Services.

IT’S HARD to say what this winter holds in store for distributors of propane and heating oil. However, companies like Superior Plus Energy Services Inc are preparing for any contingency.

Mechanics at Superior Plus Energy Services are hard at work making sure that the company’s 150 propane bobtails and 250 fuel oil tankwagons are ready for the onset of cold weather. Customers throughout the eight northeastern states served by the company are beginning to call for service on their home heating systems.

“We’re in good shape in terms of being ready for this year’s heating season,” says Stacy Sullivan, who serves as corporate fleet manager for Superior Plus Energy Services. “After an extremely cold winter, followed by a mild winter, we’re hearing that this winter should be about average. However, we could see above average lake effect snowfall, which could make propane and heating oil deliveries tougher for our drivers and trucks.

“By September, our customers will be thinking about winter, which will bring a flurry of heating system service calls. Customers also will be finalizing plans for heating fuel purchases. Even with fuel prices down, we still set up a lot of pre-buy and fixed-price programs for our customers.”

Impressive history

A US-based sister company of Superior Propane in Canada, Superior Plus Energy Services is headquartered in Rochester, New York, and was formed from three large fuel marketer acquisitions with a market presence dating back more than 90 years.

“We have an impressive history,” Sullivan says. “Our team has been proudly delivering superior energy products and services to homes, farms, and businesses across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States since 1922. We currently operate under five brands: Superior Plus Energy Services, Griffith Energy, and Burnwell Gas, Warner’s Gas, and Townsend Energy.”

A team of nearly 1,100 employees serves more than 200,000 residential and commercial customers. The Superior Plus Energy Services team delivers home and business fuels—propane, heating oil, diesel fuel, and gasoline to meet customer needs.

“We operate from 47 local customer service centers located throughout New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania,” Sullivan says. “Customers know that we deliver fuel in all weather conditions and respond promptly whenever they request assistance.

“While the overall fuel oil market has been shrinking by about 10% to 15% a year, it has remained strong for us in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island,” Sullivan says. “On the other hand, propane demand is growing 5% to 7% a year, and New York is an especially strong propane market.”

Bulk plants

Of the 47 locations, about 75% have fuel storage for kerosene, diesel, gasoline, and heating oil. Propane storage ranges from one to three 30,000-gallon tanks.

Dispersed across the Superior Plus Energy Services system are 250 tankwagons for refined fuels, 150 propane bobtails, and 50 tractors that handle 10,000-gallon refined fuel trailers and 16,000-gallon propane transports. Propane bobtails carry 3,500-gallon pressure vessels and tankwagons have product tanks ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 gallons.

Four builders assemble the propane bobtails, which are equipped with Blackmer product pumps, Liquid Controls meters, and Raven handheld computers in the cab that are used for billing and invoicing. Assemblers include Lins Propane, Keehn Propane, Kurtz Propane, and Renaldo Sales & Service.

Three- and four-compartment aluminum tankwagon systems are assembled by Tri Tank, Bick & Heinz, Boston Steel, DTS, and Advance Tank Systems. Like the bobtails, the tankwagons have an open rear deck with easy access to product hoses and meters.

Fleet replacement

To ensure that deliveries are made regardless of weather conditions, Superior Plus Energy Services has pursued an aggressive truck replacement schedule over the past three years. “We purchased 115 new straight trucks over the past three years, and all of them were Kenworths,” Sullivan says.

It was time to buy new trucks, because maintenance costs were rising rapidly. “That’s our telltale indicator,” he says. “We track the cost of each truck and know to the penny how much each is costing us in maintenance. When a truck hits a certain threshold, we take it out of service.”

Most of the truck purchases were for medium-duty T370s, but the fuel distributor also bought 10 T680 tractors. The T370s are spec’d with the PACCAR PX-9 engine rated at 350 horsepower and matched to the Allison 3000RDS six-speed automatic transmission.

“The new Kenworths are out-performing the other brands in our fleet, which is why we’re continuing to purchase Kenworth,” he says. “The reliability and how drivers have responded to the trucks have been outstanding as well. And, just as important has been the dealer support we receive from the Kenworth Northeast Group and (executive vice-president) Dan Penksa.

“The turning radius of the T370 is excellent and the drivers like the comfort the truck offers. Our drivers take a lot of pride in what they drive and they like being behind the wheel of a Kenworth. It’s important to us as a company as well. Image is a big thing in our business. Our name is on the side of the trucks and we want people to know we’re an outstanding company with quality equipment that will make deliveries rain or shine. Our Kenworths tell people a lot about our company.”

He points out that the bobtails and tankwagons work hard, especially during the coldest months. “From November through April we’re running full out, delivering home heating oil and propane,” says. “We can’t afford to have issues with trucks. On some occasions, our trucks are out on the roads making deliveries when others aren’t. The locking differentials we spec on our tandem axle Kenworth T370 tank wagons allow us the extra traction we need for deliveries in snow and slush.”

Despite the harsh operating conditions, residential and commercial heating fuel delivery is a relatively low-mileage activity. “We don’t put on a lot of miles on each unit—about 15,000 to 20,000 miles per year—but each bobtail is delivering propane to about 40 homes a day, and each tankwagon serves about 25 customers daily. The trucks are almost always running—powering PTOs that drive the Blackmer product pumps.”     ♦