Fuel cost increases have some considering options

Staff Writer


Rising heating costs have residents looking at alternatives. Recently, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) announced a 16 percent increase in rates for Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), one of three natural gas companies in New Jersey that received similar increases in rates. PSE&G services 1.6 million natural gas customers in New Jersey.

A homeowner who received an average natural gas bill of $70 a month will now be paying $81.20 a month under the new rates, according to PSE&G.

Finding alternative ways to heat residential homes could provide some savings to homeowners.

For homeowners with fireplaces, stocking up on firewood before demand increases is a good idea, as is installing wood-burning stoves in homes. Wood-burning stoves can maintain a temperature of 60 degrees and function even during a power outage, according to Irene Borghaus, owner of Fireplaces of America, Englishtown.

"I’ve noticed a 20 percent increase in business this year compared to last year at this time," said Borghaus.

Both natural gas and oil heat need electric power to work. Woodstoves need only firewood, added Borghaus.

A basic small woodstove requires a chimney for hook-up and could run between $599 and $1,000 for a single-story home.

The price of oil heat has also increased this winter season. Last year at this time, oil cost between 85 and 94 cents per gallon. This year the average price per gallon is $1.35, said Earl Brousell, owner of Monmouth Petroleum, Englishtown.

"I have definitely cut back on deliveries this year," said Brousell.

Instead of customers ordering an automatic fill-up, which is about 500 gallons, they cut back, ordering 150 gallon fill-ups only, which is a minimum order, added Brousell.

However, Brousell is not worried about supply and demand. He has contracted with more suppliers in the event of a colder than usual winter.

To help families combat high heating costs, state Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-19, Middlesex) introduced legislation this month that would provide direct financial relief to working New Jersey families whose incomes cannot keep pace with the soaring costs of energy.

The bill would establish a new $5 million nonlapsing fund from which low income families could access grants to help offset energy price increases.

Sen. Vitale’s legislation would create a new program based on the current Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. New Jerseyans who earn up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for the program, which provides direct payments, averaging $300 to qualifying families as an offset to energy bills.

Wholesale gas prices have jumped as much as 150 percent since last year, according to the BPU. The dramatic increases, prompted four New Jersey natural gas companies to file an emergency motion seeking rate hikes, reports the BPU. The Board approved provisional rates (subject to refund) and interest of 16 percent for New Jersey Natural Gas and 17.3 percent for Elizabethtown Gas.

According to recent projections by federal Energy Information Administration, (EIA) gas production prices will be about 87 percent higher this winter than last winter. As a result, the cost of natural gas delivered to residential customers nationwide is anticipated by the EIA to be about 27 percent higher this heating season.

The BPU says the driving force behind the rate hikes are an increased demand for natural gas over the past several years. Adding further pressure on the gas supply is high oil prices, which have contributed to the increased use of natural gas. If the country experiences a colder than usual winter, gas supplies may not be able to meet demands, warns the BPU.

To minimize the impact of the increase, PSE&G is encouraging customers to conserve energy by doing the following: replace furnace filters regularly; make sure areas around windows and doors are well insulated against drafts; make sure all windows are closed tightly and locked; insulate your water heater and its water pipes; close off rooms that you are not using; on sunny days, open drapes on the sunny side of the house to trap solar energy and save your heating system extra work; close drapes when the sun goes down to conserve heat; and keep your thermostat on a lower setting, 68 or 70 degrees, especially on the coldest days.