July 7, 2008

Fuel Oil and Kerosene Prices Fueling Worry About Winter

By Dan Heath, Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Jul. 5--PLATTSBURGH -- Soaring heating-oil and kerosene prices have some people shivering with worry well before winter's arrival.

Dave Curry of Peru said he purchased 500 gallons of heating oil from Church Oil at $2.59 a gallon in August 2007. When the company put the last of that oil in his tank in April, he was charged $3.90 a gallon for the last 10.2 gallons used to fill his tank.

Curry said that if heating oil rises to $5 a gallon, as appears likely, it will cost him $2,500 to heat his house next winter, as opposed to $1,300 last winter.

"I don't think people are going to be able to heat their homes. I feel sorry for young families with a mortgage and young mouths to feed."

People can get some relief from gasoline prices by limiting unnecessary travel, he said, such as vacations. That's not the case when it comes to heating-oil prices.

"You've got to heat your house."

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority tracks home-heating-oil prices. It shows that heating oil in eight northern New York counties averaged $4.65 on June 16, up from $4.02 April 14. The June figure is up $2.03 from that time last year, an increase of 77 percent.

Some people have to make a decision whether they should lock in a price for the upcoming winter or take a chance prices would remain stable or go down.

Church Oil in Plattsburgh is still waiting to decide if it will allow customers to lock in prices ahead of winter.

Bookkeeper Jan Trombley said that if the company does allow locked-in rates, they will be announced sometime in August.

"We're hoping to do it. We have every year for the last 10 years."

The company is watching the market before it makes that decision. On Thursday, Church Oil was selling heating oil at $4.59 a gallon and kerosene at $4.89 per gallon.

The company does offer a budget payment program, 11 monthly payments from July to May, with the month of June left for people to catch up on unpaid balances.

At Vaincourt Fuels in Malone, prices Wednesday were $4.49 for heating oil and $4.84 for kerosene.

Vice President of Sales and Supply John Baird said the company does allow customers to lock in an amount. They are in the process of determining those prices for the upcoming winter.

"That works well for the customer when prices go up, but not as well when the prices drop," Baird said.

He believes prices will fall this winter and will continue to drop within the next year.

The company also offers a cap program, where the price a customer pays can rise only to a set amount but can drop to any level. The program includes an insurance fee so the company is covered if the price drops dramatically.

Vaincourt Fuels also helps some of its customers as a distributor for the Citizens Energy Corp.

Customers who qualify with the Massachusetts-based organization receive a voucher they can redeem with Vaincourt Fuels for 100 gallons of free fuel oil or kerosene, which is then reimbursed by Citizens Energy.

The Vaincourt Fuels Web site states that people who receive HEAP assistance automatically qualify for the voucher.

"We were the first company to bring that into this area last year," Baird said. "We have helped a lot of people with this."

At James C. Smith and Sons Wednesday, heating oil was $4.60 a gallon; and kerosene, $4.90 a gallon.

Owner Carl Smith said his company has never offered customers locked-in prices. In some years, that might have helped his customers, but in others it would have hurt them when oil prices dropped during the winter.

That was the case several winters ago, when Smith and Son's prices dropped from $1.20 a gallon in September 2000 to $1 a gallon in April 2002.

In the year 2000, the price in April was $1.20 a gallon.

The company recently sent out a mailing put together by Office Manager Judy Boulerice that explains some changes and tips for the upcoming winter. It includes a list of spring and fall prices for heating oil and kerosene from 2000 to 2008.

Prices for fuel oil rose from $2.45 in April 2007 to $4.05 this April, and kerosene rose from $2.80 last April to $4.40 this year.

Smith and Son offers a budget plan, with each customer's estimated fuel cost split into monthly payments. It is not a locked price, so if prices go up or down, the customers' payments can change accordingly.

The company hasn't changed its service rates, Smith said. This is a good time of year to have your furnace serviced, he said, to generate energy cost savings through increased efficiency.


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