New England worried about heating oil prices for 2009

Real fear among many people I talk to locally. Those who aren’t wealthy can’t see a way to keep their homes heated and still afford to live in them. Those people with a couple of thousand in extra cash are opting for wood pellet stoves. My local wood stove retailer is seeing this, they used to sell a couple a week, now it is four or five a day.

We just moved back to California from Connecticut. Heating oil in Winter 2007 was $1.95 a gallon, which was considered very high. Our last bill (just before we sold the house) was on May 5 2008 at $3.72 a gallon. It was costing us $150 a week during the worst of winter with the thermostat set at 64 during the day and 55 at night. (We now live in the S.F. Bay Area where heating costs are way less and we don’t even have or need AC.)

An AP article says some heating oil suppliers are offering a lock-in prices for 2009 at $4.60. Yikes. The average home there uses 1,000 gallons a year, with the vast bulk of that in five months. So at $4.60 a gallon that works out to about $900 a month for the five months of cold weather or over $200 a week just to keep the house warm.

If these prices are not a bubble, then the Northeast is in serious trouble. Connecticut magnifies the problems by having extremely expensive electricity, nosebleed property taxes, and a comatose attitude towards energy conservation, efficiency, and planning for the future. Yet state government continues to appoint committees to determine why the young are leaving the state. That’s what I mean by comatose. The reasons are obvious. They can’t afford to stay and not much is going on anyway. (I grew up in Connecticut BTW.)

There were numerous reports in the media of people unable to pay heating bills or forced to keep the house at 55 degrees (or less) all the time and wear a hat and coat inside constantly.

What will they do next year if prices rise more? This is a regional problem that requires a regional (or national) solution. One big problem, at least in Connecticut, is that there are no county governments or regional authorities (except for a few water boards.) Instead you have the townships, who steadfastly and proudly refuse to share power or join forces with any other township, and the state government, and no entities in between the two. Such a quaint system might have worked in colonial times, but The World is Flat now, and dealing with a serious ongoing energy crisis will require cooperation, new ideas, thinking outside the box, and most of all, a regional plan. The alternative is to freeze in the dark.