Fuel oil prices expected to remain high

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(Host) Vermont consumers could pay record amounts to heat their homes this winter as fuel oil and propane prices are expected to remain near historic highs.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) According to the Vermont Department of Public Service fuel oil prices are averaging just over two dollars-a-gallon this month. That’s the average discounted price. Many Vermont consumers are paying more. That’s more than fifty cents a gallon higher than a year ago. Going back even further, fuel oil was seventy-nine cents-a-gallon six years ago.

(Korrow) “They’re higher than they have been since I’ve been involved in the business. And that’s forty three years.”

(Zind) Karen Gillespie Korrow runs Gillespie Fuels in Northfield. While current prices are below last April’s high point, Korrow says in the longer term prices will remain high.

(Korrow) “There’s no indication of prices dropping or turning around.”

(Zind) The Department of Energy agrees that at least in the short term, increasing worldwide demand will keep fuel prices high.

Anticipating the higher prices, Korrow says customers have been clamoring for budget and pay-in-advance fuel oil and propane plans that guarantee they won’t be paying prices higher than the current level this winter.

(Korrow) “My plans went into the mail yesterday and my phones haven’t stopped ringing today.”

(Zind) Korrow says normally her company is selling pre-pay plans into September, but she anticipates that all the fuel set aside for those plans will be spoken for by late July. Even with pre-pay and budget plans, there’s a good chance consumers will pay considerably more for fuel oil this winter.

Shane Sweet of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association says higher prices mean his members have to pay out more money up front to purchase fuel. They also recognize that more of their customers will have a harder time paying their bills.

Sweet says there’s growing interest among fuel dealers in offering a blend of heating oil and bio diesel – a non-petroleum product made from corn and other crops.

(Sweet) “I’ve got three or four dealers that have told me they would like to sell a bio-blend this season.”

(Zind) Sweet says bio fuels may be a long term solution to high heating fuel prices. But for the foreseeable future, the cost of staying warm for most Vermonters will be tied to the price of oil.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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