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September 22. 2013 9:58PM

NH's heating oil season starts revving up


David Jones, owner of Neighbor's Oil in Plaistow, makes a delivery Friday to a residence on Main Street in Plaistow. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

A couple of chilly nights last week was all it took.

"People started looking at their oil tanks to see where they stand," said David Jones, owner of Neighbor's Oil in Plaistow.

The busiest time for oil deliveries is usually November and December, but dealers say now is a good time to buy.

"As always, I encourage people to buy early. so they should definitely be filling their tanks now," said Janice Pack, oil department manager at McLaughlin Oil Company in Nashua.

Now is also a good time for struggling families to apply for help paying a portion of their heating bills.

"The biggest message I have that I want to get out there is it's not too early to apply. Applications are taken early so people will be able to benefit once it gets cold," said Celeste Lovett, program manager for the state's Fuel Assistance Program.

The program is federally funded and administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but the assistance is provided through local community action agencies.

The state provided assistance to 36,805 households last winter season and expects to see at least the same number of requests this year, Lovett said.

Community action agencies have already started taking applications for fuel assistance.

"We're getting lots of requests from people who have never been on the program before," she said.

Lovett said the state doesn't know yet how much it will receive in federal funds this year, but she's hopeful it'll be at least the same as last year's $24.3 million.

Lovett urged applicants to apply through their local community action agency, but if they're not sure how to contact that agency, they should call 211, the state's information line.

Several oil dealers said they believe prices will likely be similar to last winter.

The highest price charged by Victory Fuels in Newton last season was $3.649 on Feb. 11, according to Jayne Carter, office manager at Victory Fuels in Newton.

Like other dealers, Victory's price per gallon was $3.349 on Friday; it has slowly increased since the spring.

"I honestly think it's going to fluctuate back and forth right up until Christmas," Carter said.

Kevin Schea, president of Harry's Fuel in Brentwood, said he expects oil prices to average $3.50 a gallon through the end of the year.

Victory began selling its pre-buys in July and sold out by mid-August, allowing customers to lock into a rate by purchasing a certain number of gallons.

"People were really panicking because of the news and everything that was going on," Carter said, referring to the crisis in Syria.

Victory is still busy, with two to three delivery trucks on the road each day.

"A lot of people are filling up now because they think the price of oil is going to be sky high," Carter said.

Schea said most oil companies make deliveries for their customers once during the summer months, especially if they use oil to provide hot water, but "we won't start seeing eight-hour days, five days a week until mid-November and then it slowly slides into six days a week and then seven days a week."

Oil dealers are keeping their eyes on the latest edition of the Old Farmer's Almanac, which predicts a cold and snowy winter for the region.

"Snow days keep kids home, so consumption is higher," Pack said.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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