Heating costs forecast near normal,
Fuel Assistance funding in doubt
CONCORD-Officials at the Governors Office of Energy and Community Services (ECS) today said home heating costs might be higher than last year but not unusually high.
"The federal Energy Information Administration has reported the potential for home heating costs to increase by between 19 and 45 percent over last year, but we certainly do not expect to see prices increase to $2.00 a gallon for home heating oil," said MaryAnn Manoogian, director at ECS, referring to earlier news reports.
"Average home heating oil prices are actually lower right now than they were last year," Manoogian noted, adding "the average heating oil price in New Hampshire last winter was about $1.18. EIA is estimating we may see a maximum price as high as $1.50 per gallon for home heating oil this heating season, but that is based upon projections that may not come to fruition this winter," Manoogian noted.
EIA fuel projections are based on an increase in crude oil prices; normal winter temperatures; no change in oil production from OPEC at this time; and normal increased demand entering into the winter heating season as well as the pace of economic recovery.
"At this point, however, the U. S. Weather Service long range temperature forecasts call for warmer than normal temperatures for the northern tier of the United States from fall through early spring because of a mild to moderate El Nino event," Manoogian said. "So at least in terms of the weather forecast, we can expect a better situation than EIA is predicting."
And, she added, "while the potential for war with Iraq does add some uncertainty to the fuel price picture because of potential supply disruptions, EIA scenarios include lower fuel prices as well as higher fuel prices.
"Right now, New England inventories for all heating fuels are good, and what we want to avoid is anxiety based on speculation at this point," she said.
She recommended that consumers concerned about heating oil costs this winter talk with their fuel dealer about fixed-price protection programs or a monthly budget plan to help stabilize monthly bills. She also reminded homeowners that they can reduce heating costs and save energy by having furnaces cleaned and tuned, weatherizing homes with proper levels of insulation and caulking and weather-stripping around windows and doors to seal out cold air.
"We have a major concern right now," Manoogian said, "on behalf of our elderly and working poor households this winter season since the allocation of funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has not been finalized. This means that we still do not know what the final grant award will be for the states Fuel Assistance Program for income eligible households in New Hampshire and we may not know until the next Congress takes office in January," Manoogian stated. She said that, under the current continuing resolution from Congress, "New Hampshire has received some funds but they are severely insufficient as we enter into the heating season.
"Given that the Bush Administration has proposed a $300 million cut in LIHEAP funds from last years funding level, the lack of clarity about the amount of funding is alarming. Last year," she noted, "insufficient federal funds forced New Hampshires Fuel Assistance Program to deny assistance to thousands of eligible households.
"No one wants to see that happen again but the uncertainty about the final amount federal funding certainly increases the likelihood of a repeat performance."
For more information on fuel prices, the EIA price forecast, energy efficiency opportunities and fuel assistance program visit the Governors Office of Energy and Community Services website at www.nhecs.org.
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