Fuel prices rise 12% over last year

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(Host) For those who keep track of fuel prices, the official start of the winter heating season is only a few days away.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports prices are up from this time last year.

(Zind) A spot check of Vermont dealers shows fuel oil prices are hovering at about $1.40 a gallon, and the retail price for propane is somewhere over $2.00 a gallon. According to state figures, prices going into this winter are about 12% higher than last fall.

Shane Sweet is with the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association. Sweet says in a market where significant price swings can happen quickly, the increase isn’t unusual.

(Sweet) “There’s anything but typical in this business anymore. Obviously, you do have years where it’s dropped. Two years ago we had a drop for the same period.”

(Zind) Even when the fuel market is stable, prices move like a roller coaster. They bottom out in summer and peak in the dead of winter. Tom Franks tracks the prices for the Department of Public Service. Franks says this year, the summer dip wasn’t as pronounced as in the past. But that doesn’t mean this winter’s peak will be higher. Franks says prices can rise and fall with changes in inventory, world demand, weather conditions and simply on market fears.

(Franks) “If people think there’s going to be a shortage – that can drive the price up before there is one, and then you end up paying that higher price, even if the shortage never actually occurs.”

(Zind) Shane Sweet of the fuel dealers association says one time events like pipeline breaks and refineries going offline can also lead to spikes in prices. Barring these unexpected developments, Sweet says there shouldn’t be a dramatic increase in fuel prices this year. But he warns that a reduction in inventories could raise prices.

(Sweet) “There’s nothing on my radar screen that tells me there’s going to be any significant issue that would effect price and supply, other than the fact that I’m hearing regional inventories are getting tighter.”

(Zind) Tom Franks of the Department of Public Service says pre-buy and budget plans offered by many fuel dealers enable consumers to lock in lower fuel prices. And Franks says making sure burners are clean and maintained and taking steps to make homes more fuel efficient also help to reduce fuel bills.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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