Heating fuel prices and supply stabilize as winter weather sets in

Jan. 25—LEWISTON — Warmer temperatures across much of Maine have helped stabilize heating fuel prices in the past few months and allowed retailers and wholesalers to build their storage capacity.

"Overall, the market has stabilized and is trending good," according to Steve Temple, general manager of Murray-Heutz Oil and Propane in Turner. He said a key strategy they use is having multifaceted suppliers to protect customers from price spikes and ensure they have a sufficient supply.

Heating oil remains the most popular fuel in Maine, with more than 60% of homes relying on it, according to the Governor's Energy Office. As of Jan. 17, the average price per gallon for heating oil statewide was $4.34, down from $4.38 in October. Heating oil prices are lower in Maine than the rest of New England, by 17 cents a gallon or more.

Murray-Heutz supplies fuel to just under 5,000 customers. Temple said more of their customers buy propane than heating oil and propane prices are lower and more stable long-term. The average per gallon price for propane statewide was $3.26, as posted on the Governor's Energy Office website as of Jan. 17. The prices listed on the website are spot cash prices. Pricing in certain areas may be higher or lower and may be affected by contracts and usage commitments.

Kerosene remains the most expensive choice for heating fuel at a statewide average of $5.78 a gallon, and is the hardest to find.

The wood pellet supply has also stabilized since October.

Robert Linkletter, owner of Maine Woods Pellet Co. in Athens, one of the largest suppliers in Maine, said he has stabilized his labor force and secured enough pallets to transport and store wood pellets, but he had to pay a higher price to solve his supply issues from earlier in the year. As he predicted in October, his production totals were down for the year at 90,000 tons. In a normal year, Linkletter said they produce 100,000 to 120,000 tons a year.

"We're still producing, still selling," he said in an interview Wednesday. He said he's managed to juggle enough of the unknowns to keep his customers supplied. "We have enough to supply everyone, but there won't be any leftover."

Wood pellet prices, he said, range from $299 to $305 per ton. The average price per ton statewide was $312 as of Jan. 17.

Heating with firewood is getting more expensive, with a statewide average cost of $350 a cord for partially seasoned, delivered, with a two cord minimum. An informal online survey for firewood in Massachusetts showed prices ranging from $350 to $750 a cord, delivered.

Temple said as of now he sees no trouble spots on the horizon, although labor continues to be the wild card for many businesses. He said he is thankful to be fully staffed.