Temperatures up, heating costs down

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As winter temperatures rise, heating costs are dropping. That’s bad news for customers who locked in heating oil prices during last summer’s high, and it’s bad news for heating oil companies that bought loads of oil to meet pre-orders.

But it’s very good news for everyone else.

“People are saving money,” said Betsy Elder, senior policy analyst for the Maine Office of Energy Independence and Security.

The average price of heating oil has fallen 19 cents in Maine over four months, sliding from $2.48 a gallon Sept. 5 to $2.29 a gallon this week. Although a lot of factors affect oil prices – from Mid-East politics to supply – experts say lower demand is largely to blame for this season’s dropping price for heat.

November 2006 was the warmest on record, according to the National Weather Service. December was the second warmest. So far, January is keeping up that trend.

“Saturday we may make 60 degrees,” said Art Lester, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray.

That’s bad for customers who reserved heating oil last summer or fall when prices were higher. Because oil prices have been so volatile over the past several years, those customers have gotten used to locking in low and watching winter prices rise. This year, they’ve been disappointed.

“I’ve heard grumblings,” Elder said.

But there’s little those locked-in customers can do now. “A contract is a contract,” she said.

This winter’s warm temperatures are also making life difficult for oil dealers. When customers locked in a price over the summer-fall, those companies pre-bought oil at the high prices. Now customers have used only a fraction of that oil, and the company is stuck trying to sell that high-priced oil in a lower-priced market.

“At this point it’s very difficult to make up,” said Jamie Py, president of the Maine Oil Dealers Association

For customers who decided to gamble on the weather and not reserve any oil, however, this winter is the stuff of dreams.

It’s expected to stay unseasonably warm though this weekend, according to the National Weather Service. After some cooling next week, temperatures are expected to bump back up again.

Still, experts warn, mid-January is typically the coldest part of the year. And the weather changes quickly.

“I keep telling people it ain’t over yet,” Elder said.

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