The price of heating oil hit an all-time high in the state Monday – $2.54 a gallon. That’s 60 percent higher than it was this time last year and 42 cents more than it was at the end of March.

“This is the highest historical Maine statewide average cash price for heating oil,” according to Betsy Elder, who tracks oil prices in the State Planning Office. The figure is not adjusted for inflation.

And, it has heating oil customers worried.

Jamie Py, head of the Maine Oil Dealers Association, said with the spike in oil prices brought on by Hurricane Katrina “people are nervous.”

Those that didn’t lock into contracts for the winter are calling their oil dealers now to fix a price, he said, but they’re probably “out of luck for most companies.”

Even if you can lock into a contract now, Py said, “it would be very, very expensive relative to where they were in the summer.”

Py said prices never really settled down this summer, in part due to speculation on the commodities market. The damage done by the hurricane to oil refineries did “an unprecedented hit on capacity.”

“The speculators and traders were overheating the commodities market, which is why heating oil was going up in the middle of the summer,” Py said. “It really made our dealers nuts when they were trying to offer programs.”

“Now that the speculators are getting screamed at by Congress,” following the spike caused by Katrina, he said, “hopefully the speculators will stay out of the market to allow it to come down to earth.”

Beth Nagusky of the state’s Office of Energy Independence and Security said Maine already is lobbying for more home heating aid from the federal government. This year’s allocation is estimated at $26 million for the state.

Nagusky said that isn’t enough to help all the people in need at the current price of oil.

“We can’t even fill the tank once,” she said.

The state is also looking at doing outreach to identify people in need.

“One of our biggest concerns in Maine is people won’t ask for help,” Nagusky said.

The state is working with the Maine Municipal Association and social service agencies that go into people’s home to get the word out that “people need to pay attention to how people are doing this winter.”

Those in need of fuel assistance or help winterizing their home should contact their local community action programs. Those who would like to volunteer to help winterize people’s homes through Operation Keep Maine Warm should go to volunteermaine.org. Both programs are run through the Maine State Housing Authority.


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