The hard pinch  of gas prices: Upper Valley feels impact of rising fuel expenses

  • Cathi Haley, of Corinth, Vt., watches the price tick up on the pump, eventually stopping at $47.50, as she fills her tank at Jake's Market & Deli in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, March 7, 2022. Haley, who works in home health care and drives around the Upper Valley to see several clients a day, says she was hoping that gas prices would go down after the weekend, but they only seem to be going up. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Gas prices over $4 per gallon are displayed on a pump at Jake's Market & Deli in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, March 7, 2022. Gas and diesel prices have surged following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/7/2022 9:41:46 PM
Modified: 3/7/2022 9:41:12 PM

Suspending operation of a timber harvesting business. Rerouting drivers. Not filling open positions. Canceling Netflix.

These are some of the ways Upper Valley residents and businesses are handling a surge in gas and diesel prices triggered by Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and the aftershocks rocking global oil markets that have sent the price of crude oil soaring to its highest level in nearly 14 years.

“We stopped harvesting timber at the end of last week because the prices won’t support $5 per gallon diesel,” said Stacey Thomson, owner of Thomson Timber Harvesting and Trucking in Orford. The idled heavy equipment for timber normally consumes about 300 gallons of diesel fuel per week.

“You can’t put on a fuel surcharge in the logging business because the mills won’t take it,” Thomson said.

On Monday, AAA reported that the national average price for regular gasoline hit $4.065 a gallon, the highest price seen since July 2008 when gas peaked at $4.11 a gallon (When adjusted for inflation, gas would need to reach $5.20 a gallon to match the peaks of the Great Recession.)

In Northern New England, where energy costs tend to run higher, the price of gas at the pump exceeded the national average.

The price of regular unleaded gas in New Hampshire was up to $4.12 per gallon as of 3:15 p.m. on Monday, four cents higher than the day before and 76.1 cents higher than the average price a month ago, according to GasBuddy.com, which tracks gas prices nationally.

In Vermont, a gallon of regular unleaded cost $4.10, up nearly five cents from day prior and 76.1 cents from a month ago.

New Hampshire and Vermont ranked the 18th and 20th most expensive states in the U.S. for gas.

There is shortage of gas from suppliers at the moment, and the cost has been steadily rising by the day, said Bruce Bergeron, owner of the Upper Valley-based nine-location Jake’s Market & Deli convenience store and gas station chain, who gets update each night at 6 p.m. and midnight from his suppliers Irving Oil and Mobil Oil.

Bergeron said the price at the pump is largely out of his control and he earns the same 12.5 cents per gallon profit regardless of his wholesale cost, although as the retailer Jake’s can be recipient of the public’s invective over gas prices.

“I had one of my guys cursed at while he was outside changing the price,” Bergeron said Monday.

Congress is currently weighing a measure that would ban imports of Russian oil, but given that the U.S. buys only about 8% of its oil from Russia, Bergeron doesn’t foresee there being a critical disruption in availability.

“We have other avenues of supply that can make up for the Russian piece,” Bergeron said. “But it will be more expensive because everyone else in the world will be looking to make up for their Russian crude.”

Cathi Haley, who provides home care to four elderly clients in the Upper Valley and puts hundreds of miles on her car every week from traveling from her home in Corinth to their homes in Lebanon, said she understands the war in Ukraine is affecting what she’s paying for gas but she cannot pass along the cost increase to her clients.

On Monday, Haley had just filled up her 2017 Toyota RAV4 at Jake’s on Mechanic Street where she paid $4.09 per gallon for regular unleaded, which came to a total of $48.

A couple weeks ago, she said, it was costing $36 to fill her tank. She fills her tank twice a week, so Haley is now paying $24 more per week for gas — equivalent to about an hour’s worth of income.

“I just have to absorb it,” Haley said, saying it would not be right to change the agreed-upon fee with her clients for her services, adding that she makes a point of now traveling to her farthest clients first and then stopping at clients in Thetford and Piermont on the way back home to Corinth to save on mileage and gas.

“That way it’s one big round trip with a couple little side trips,” she said.

For those who depend upon their vehicles to earn money, higher gas prices add to the daily cost another burden, said Ed Hood Jr., who drives about 40 hours per week for UVER, the Upper Valley restaurant meal delivery service.

When he first began driving for UVER a couple months ago Hood said it cost about $22 to fill up his 6-cylinder Chevy Malibu but it is now costing him $32.

“I’ve already filled up three times this week,” he said.

To slow down the rise in cost, Hood said he belongs to buyer-loyalty programs that shave off several cents per gallon from the pump price but he also spends more time looking for the best deals at gas stations.

For example, Hood said he makes sure to take advantage of “customer appreciation day” on Mondays and Tuesdays at George’s AG Super Value market near his home in Enfield, where “gas is a little bit cheaper.”

Because UVER pays its drivers on a formula tied to distance, there is no adjustment for fuel costs (tipping is the other source of income for UVER drivers).

So Hood has had to make adjustments elsewhere, such as canceling his Netflix subscription.

“That’s nearly $15 per month. I can watch another channel,” he said.

As a result of higher gas prices, UVER, which now has 12 Upper Valley restaurants in its consortium and 11 drivers, is having to “get really strategic in our dispatching,” said UVER director Chris Acker.

That means rather than dispatching one order at a time, he will now try to bundle two or three orders from the same restaurant with the same driver.

“If the orders are within a certain amount of time of each other we might take a couple more minutes for those deliveries and specifically hold onto them and tell the drivers to wait until all of them are done,” Acker said.

Jim Donison, public works chief in Lebanon, said he is watching the price of diesel going up and increases could punch a hole in his department’s 2022 budget, forcing it to forgo some projects.

When Donison put together the budget, he was estimating the highway department alone would need $87,500 for the 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel he expects to use in the year, up from $77,100 budgeted for 2021.

Those projections were based on a retail price of $4.00 per gallon for diesel (municipalities do not pay some of the taxes on fuel, so that knocks the city’s actual cost down to about $3.50 per gallon).

“I noticed yesterday there are some places now selling diesel for $5 per gallon,” Donison.

When the price of diesel goes above $4 per gallon, “that’s when it starts digging into our overall operating budget,” Donison said, saying the department might have to skip purchase of materials or put off road line painting.

“We haven’t had those discussions yet,” Donison said. “But we are probably going to start having them.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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