Heating New England Homes: The Good And Bad News Low heating oil prices mean New Englanders don't have to bundle up at home this year, but they will have to watch their rising electric bills.
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Heating New England Homes: The Good And Bad News

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Heating New England Homes: The Good And Bad News

Heating New England Homes: The Good And Bad News

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We have been reporting on the global impact of falling oil prices. It is crippling some economies, like in Russia and Venezuela. It's being celebrated in northern New England, where most homes burn heating oil in their furnaces, and this is fortunate timing. The cheap heating oil means consumers have extra money to pay the electric bills, which are going up. Here's New Hampshire Public Radio's Sam Evans-Brown.

(SOUNDBITE OF RATTLING)

SAM EVANS-BROWN, BYLINE: This heating oil delivery truck, one of the Dead River Company's fleet, is refilling the tanks of an old four-story brick building in Concord, New Hampshire. Jeff Savoy is the pilot of that truck.

JEFF SAVOY: Tanks right now are full of air. I'm pushing oil into the tanks. It's pushing the air out through the whistle.

EVANS-BROWN: And Phil Strong, Sr., is the building's caretaker.

You guys are a hundred percent out?

PHIL STRONG: A hundred percent out is right, and it's getting cold, too. I've got the stove going, the oven going.

EVANS-BROWN: It takes in 600 gallons to fill up these tanks, and they get filled every two weeks. At last year's oil prices, each refill would have cost around $2,200. Right now, it's more than $300 less. Down in the basement, the building's owner, Leon Azniv, primes the furnace and asks Strong for a reset.

LEON AZNIV: Contact.

STRONG: OK, you got it, buddy.

EVANS-BROWN: Since several apartments in this building share one furnace, Azniv pays their heating bill. But he's not exactly watching the commodities market.

AZNIV: I don't know. It's on automatic delivery. The only time I find out about it is when it doesn't work.

EVANS-BROWN: Well, he is saving money. The Energy Information Administration estimates that between the falling cost of oil and forecasts for a slightly milder winter, the average heating oil customer could save around $630 through the heating season. Great news for anybody with an oil tank, right? Yes, but unfortunately, there's bad news out there for anyone with an electric meter. Electric rates across New England have risen dramatically. For some, bills are increasing by as much as 50 percent. Ryan Clouthier, who administers a low-income energy assistance program in southern New Hampshire says for many, rising electric bills have gobbled up the savings.

RYAN CLOUTHIER: Some people will rely on electric heat to try to reduce their oil burning. So they might be putting electric heat on in just one or two rooms and heating that way for the winter.

EVANS-BROWN: Clouthier notes that they've had 800 more applications for assistance this year than the same time last year. Cheaper oil could mean a reprieve from a different trend in New England - fuel switching.

ROB STENGER: We have seen, in the past few years, a fair amount of market share disappear to alternatives like cord wood, wood pellets.

EVANS-BROWN: Rob Stenger is the owner of Simple Energy, a fuel oil dealer in Lebanon, New Hampshire. He notes that in all of the New England states, the number of homes heating with oil has fallen over the past decade, while wood, propane and natural gas are on the rise. So will that slow down?

STENGER: People sort of get amnesia. Price goes up, they get disciplined. The price goes down, and they forget all about it. And I think this time, over the last decade - I think that the disciplines associated with using less have some real staying power.

EVANS-BROWN: Stenger says customers he talks to say they expect higher prices to be just around the corner. For NPR News, I'm Sam Evans-Brown in Concord, New Hampshire.

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