Home heating for the coming season is looking up - for prices that is.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy Information Administration, residential heating oil prices during the upcoming heating season (October though March) are projected to average $4.13 per gallon, an increase of about 25 percent over last heating season. Residential natural gas prices over the same period are projected to average $14.93 per cubic foot compared with $12.72 per cubic foot during the last heating season, an increase of about 17 percent.
Local retailers said their customers are diversifying by adding alternate heating sources and getting away from traditional fuel oil and gas heating.
(The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Pam Vaillancourt, a salesperson at the Home Heating Headquarters in Johnstown, pours pellets into a stove in the showroom Wednesday.
Joe DiGiacomo of Midnight Oil Co. in Broadalbin said all his customers are asking the same question, "How high will fuel oil go this winter?"
"If I knew the answer to that, I'd be rich and famous," he said with a laugh. "Crude oil has gone down to $90 a barrel in the past few days, so I think prices may go down in the near future."
DiGiacomo said fuel oil was at $3.49 per gallon as of Wednesday.
"The trend is downward, but there are daily changes," he said. "A lot of our customers are putting in supplemental heat from another source like wood or pellet stoves. I don't see any solar going in, which is too bad, because that's a viable alternative."
He said the other problem with a supplemental heat source was it usually only covered one or two rooms in a house.
"I think prices for the coming winter may be 15 to 20 percent higher than last season," DiGiacomo said. "Everyone is concerned about it."
One solution DiGiacomo said he is seeing with his customers is a trend toward early fill-ups for oil tanks.
"We're busier than usual right now," he said.
At B&B Country Stoves in Johnstown, Richard Blowers said many people are putting in alternative heating to beat the high cost of fuel. He said he is getting reports from his customers that corn runs about half the cost of traditional fuels like fuel oil.
"Corn is running $240 a ton right now," Blowers said. "We install both supplemental and full-house heating systems that burn corn."
Blowers said he expected the cost of corn to stay between $240 and $260 a ton through the heating season.
At Home Heating Headquarters in Johnstown, Pam Vaillancourt said they supply wood pellets and corn to their customers, but that supplies were tight at the moment so they were only supplying those who had already signed on as customers.
"Wood pellets run $289 per ton and corn is running $299 a ton," she said. "Where it will go through the season is anybody's guess."
She said a new fuel they were carrying was called "biobricks," which were compressed sawdust bricks which sold for $279 per skid and equaled approximately a full cord of wood.
Liquid propane at Snyder Propane in Fort Plain was selling for $333.90 per gallon compared to $299.90 this time last year, according to a spokeswoman there.
The U.S. DEIA also said heating fuel expenditures for the average household using oil as its primary heating fuel are expected to increase by $585 (30 percent) over last winter. The corresponding average expenditure increases for households heated with natural gas and propane are $162 (19 percent) and $217 (13 percent), respectively.
Average U.S. residential electricity prices are projected to increase by 5.7 percent in 2008 and by 9.5 percent in 2009.
In a news release from National Grid, the company said customers will likely see stable natural gas prices this winter, but weather conditions will ultimately determine how heating bills compare with last year's costs.
Current market conditions suggest the cost of natural gas for National Grid customers will be the same as last year, the news release said. The company, however, warned that a return to normal temperatures this winter, after last year's mild heating season, may cause customers to use more natural gas. With typical usage levels, customer bills could increase over last year's costs.
Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at email@example.com.