Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Let us be thankful (lest we weep)

The $1200 wood bill has been trumped by heating oil at $5 a gallon and propane upwards of $4. If I burned the same amount of fuel as last year but at this year’s prices, the total cost to heat my house would be $4,000, double last year’s bill. Ouch.

Fortunately, I have the ability to burn either wood or oil in my furnace, so will switch the percentage to as much wood as I can manage. The limiting factor is that I can only burn wood when I am home to run up and down the stairs and put logs on the fire. So if I plan to burn wood four to five days a week and all evenings, I think I can cut my bill to $3,000. Still painful, but better.

As you may imagine, the “prebuy” is the hot new topic wherever Vermonters congregate. As in “Didja get your prebuy yet?” Translation: “Have you heard from the oil (or gas) company what their price will be for the coming heating season?” There’s a level of obsession with the coming winter that we don’t usually see until the first crisp turn of the air in mid-August.

The prebuys are just now out. The fuel oil companies have been having trouble coming up with plans they can live with. Mine is offering $5 a gallon if you buy now, with a couple of adjustments for good credit and paying by check. How else would you pay? Oh, maybe credit card? That would be dire.

Alternatively, you can pay $4.80 for the oil and 40 cents for a cap for a total of $5.20. Then you can pay by the month. And if the price goes down, you pay the lower price. Worth it? I’m not sure. And there is a time value of money calculation I need to do as well. From a psychological point of view, I would rather pay once and not worry further. But I am fortunate to be able to do so.

These small fuel oil companies are really hurting. They buy oil at a price and sell it at a markup, but they can get hammered if prices go against them. Even the little guys are pretty adept at hedging, but these markets are making everyone queasy. Further, as prices go up, so do the odds that they will not get paid, and you can’t really repossess oil from a home tank. Aside from the human and political angles, there is sludge at the bottom of most tanks. So they deliver smaller amounts and sometimes insist on getting paid before delivery. More, smaller deliveries mean higher costs for their trucks and drivers.

The politicians and the non-profits are ramping up for a tough winter. Unless the weather is unusually warm, they are expecting to need to open up gymnasiums and armories as temporary shelters for people who simply cannot heat their homes. Winter in Vermont is beautiful but can be deadly.

The only happy campers these days are the wood guys. Their costs have gone up to some degree, but nothing like the rise in prices. Me, I’m grateful to be able to soften the price rise by shifting to more wood. It’s a rare opportunity, not to be repeated until I retire and can stay home most days happily feeding the wood furnace. But that’s more than a decade away, and who knows what energy future we will face by then?

Note: Just so you know. I will not be accepting political or merely cynical comments on this or any of my posts. You certainly have the right to hold whatever opinions you hold. But this blog is not the place for them.

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