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Bottom Line: Upper Valley fuel dealers anticipate high costs for winter heating staples

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 10/13/2021 10:46:03 AM
Modified: 10/13/2021 10:46:09 AM

It’s going to be a long, cold winter and heating fuel prices are likely to have homeowners steaming.

That’s the takeaway from my annual fall check-in with local fuel distributors who predict the run-up in energy prices will continue into the winter when demand peaks.

“We had lumber prices hitting a record high. Then it was meat. Now we are looking at the same happening with propane and heating oil as well,” says Casey Cota, owner of Bellows Falls, Vt.-based fuel distributor Cota & Cota, which has a branch in White River Junction. “It hasn’t been like this in five or six years.”

Home heating fuel prices — principally propane and No. 2 heating oil — tend to rise and fall in tandem. But this year propane prices particularly have been on an upward swing, signaling substantially higher home heating bills for households this season not locked into a prebuy contract.

Last winter the per-gallon cost of home propane jumped 30%, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration termed the “largest within-season increase” since the winter of 2013–2014, when the polar votex caused temperatures to plunge across the country and led to extraordinary demand for home heating fuels.

That trend looks only to continue, local distributors say.

“I can tell you they are not coming down,” assures Stacey Thomson, owner of Thomson Fuels in Bradford, Vt.

In Vermont, the price of propane in September was up 22.3% to $2.74 per gallon while heating oil is up 40% to $2.77 per gallon from a year ago, according to the Department of Public Service.

In New Hampshire, the price for propane as of the week ending Sept. 8 — the most recent information available — was $3.15 per gallon, according to the state’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, up 18.9% from $2.65 per gallon a year ago. Fuel oil was $2.75 per gallon, up 33% from a year ago.

(Residential home fuel prices, like gas at the pump, can vary widely between even neighboring states due to distance from supply terminals and transportation routes).

Thomson, like many employers in the Upper Valley, says he can’t find enough drivers — despite paying $25 or more per hour — to cover the routes so is having to drive a fuel delivery truck himself.

“I’ve been doing deliveries for the past three months, every liquid ounce of this stuff,” says Thomson, who also runs a logging and excavation business, explaining “this is the one thing that has to be done.”

Heating oil and propane prices historically follow the price of gas at the pump: and as every driver knows, the price of regular, mid-grade and premium gas are each up about $1 per gallon nationally from a year ago, according to AAA.

Cota & Cota’s Casey Cota points out that the price of heating fuels this coming winter is being affected by interruptions in production caused by the ice storm shutting down refineries in Texas last spring and then hurricanes doing the same this summer to refineries in Louisiana.

The Biden Administration’s policy of tightening environmental regulations and moving aggressively away from fossil fuels is also making production costlier, he noted.

Cota said that he could tell where propane prices were heading based upon his customers’ purchase of their annual prebuy and budget plans Cota introduced in May.

“We sold out both our plans in the fastest I’ve ever seen,” Cota said, which he attributes to “people seeing gas prices going up and up at the pump” this year.

“They weren’t incorrect,” he said.

Global Rescue has Haiti mission

Global Rescue, the Lebanon-based emergency services and risk management company, often is called to extract people from the world’s hot spots and conflict zones.

Now it is being tasked with getting aid workers and supplies into a crisis area — and doing so pro bono.

From its operations center at the Rivermill complex on Mechanic Street, Global Rescue has been tapped by a consortium of Caribbean basin government ministers to organize recovery efforts for victims of the August 14 earthquake in Haiti, which killed nearly 2,000 people and left tens of thousands of families homeless.

Then a couple days later Tropical Storm Grace swept in, flooding the island in rains and blocking initial rescue and relief efforts.

“There’s a great need on the ground for temporary shelters, food, medicines,” said Dan Richards, the Tuck School of Business alumnus who founded and runs Global Rescue. “What we’re working on now is the logistics associated with recovery.”

As part of that effort, Global Rescue is absorbing the cost of purchasing 500 temporary shelters and 100,000 doses of acetaminophen — the ingredient in pain relievers like Anacin and Tylenol — and shipping them without charge to Haiti.

The shipment left Miami last week and is scheduled to arrive in Haiti early this week.

“This tragedy is heartbreaking for a region already devastated by the pandemic. The scale of the disaster is tremendous and our operations teams are working to gather, convey and distribute desperately needed aid to the area,” Richards said.

He put the total of cost of Global Rescue’s donation “in the $50,000 range,” adding that as demand continues for both supplies and services “my guess is that number is only going to go up.”

Typically Global Rescue prefers to source supplies in the country or region it is working in order to aid the local economy.

But that hasn’t been possible with Haiti, so this time the purchases were all made in the U.S.

“We have relationships with medical distributors and supply companies. We know where to find this stuff,” Richards said.

Unfortunately, in a manner of speaking, Global Rescue had good training for its Haiti mission. That’s because the company played a critical role in the aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, when it dispatched 30 medical, security and crisis response personnel for more than a month to assist both local victims and travelers.

But unlike 11 years ago when Global Rescue’s Haiti mission was to provide crisis response in the days and weeks following the 2010 earthquake, the current assignment is focused on recovery, Richards explained.

”What we’re working on this time more than anything else is recovery and the logistics of recovery,” Richards said. And that only makes sense because “at the end of the day we are a logistics company.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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