Heating oil price takes a big jump

What cost $1.45 per gallon last fall may now bring as much as $2.88

Posted: Sunday, October 09, 2005

Juneau residents are bracing for an expensive winter as heating oil prices are already higher than last year and expected to rise a bit more.

"I've heard of middle-income families for the first time in their lives having to go to energy assistance to heat their homes," Juneau resident Tres Lewis said.

Some of the highest prices are currently around $2.88 per gallon, though prices vary depending on the type of fuel and quantity ordered.

"There isn't a set answer to that question," said Jeff Hansen, manager of Taku Oil Sales. He estimates on average prices are 33 percent higher than last year, a significant pinch, but its probably not the worst in the country, he said.

Dan Austin, general manager of Mendenhall Valley thrift store St. Vincent de Paul, remembers prices around $1.45 last fall.

Profits from his store go towards helping people in the community. It usually spends between $7,000 to $10,000 on heating oil for low- or fixed-income households.

It helps about 30 to 40 families a year with their heating bills.

"We'll probably be able to help about half as many people as before," said Austin, citing rising prices.

Those living on public assistance, unemployment and seniors on fixed income could be hit the hardest, he said.

Heating oil is a distillate product made from crude oil, similar to diesel fuel. According to Petroleum Marking Monthly, 42 percent of heating oil's price comes from crude oil, 12 percent comes from refining and marketing, and distribution gets 46 percent.

Alaska has no state taxes on heating oil.

Crude oil prices rose again after the Gulf Coast was damaged by hurricanes. On Friday, the trading price per barrel was at $61.48, a dip from the $70 high last month.

At Juneau pumps, low grade unleaded gasoline prices are ranging between $2.85 to $2.99.

Hansen said supply for heating oil could be high this winter, given the financial hurt of the economy. But he said oil companies may produce more heating oil this season because it is cheaper to refine diesel products than gasoline. More supply could mean prices will not spike too much, he said.

Most homes in Juneau either solely use oil, or use a combination of electricity and petroleum for heat, Hansen said. A handful use propane, though no homes are using natural gas.

City finance director Craig Duncan said his own heating bill is up to $1,300 from $800 a year ago.

City buildings that use the most fuel are the schools and Centennial Hall. The Juneau School District may have to squeeze money from other departments when it confronts its heating bills, as it is on a fixed budget, Duncan said.

"We know it's going to affect us all," said Brent Fischer, city facility maintenance superintendent. "We just don't know how much."

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com

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