Gloucester County Times

Weather Equals Heating Savings

Gloucester County Times — Friday, February 8, 2008

By Lucas K. Murray

Above-average temperatures in what is usually one of the coldest months of the year has home heating oil suppliers making fewer runs to fill their customers' tanks.

For the month of January, the average temperature for this part of the county was roughly 36 degrees almost four degrees above normal. Climate trends from the National Weather Service for the next three months are expected to be above average as well.

Which could mean trouble for suppliers.

"Our sales are down and so is our profit margin, " said Steve Limanni, owner of Limanni Fuel, Inc. in Mickleton. "Our main concern is our customers making it through the winter that's more of a concern than our profit."

Limanni offers reduced rates to senior citizens as well as volume purchase discounts. He feared with prices of crude at $100 per barrel, many of his customers would be forced to make difficult financial decisions.

"We're hoping it stays this way," Limanni said of the warmer weather. He estimates his sales are down between 15 and 20 percent.

Limanni's heating and air condition business he runs in conjunction with his fuel oil operation makes up for the decline in fuel sales.

Over at General Fuel Supply in Woodbury, owner Carl Kappeler said his sales are down along the lines of most other suppliers in the county. Now that light sweet crude is being traded at $87 per barrel, Kappeler is wishing temperatures drop the same way prices have.

"Being in the oil business I like cold weather," Kappeler said. "Who knows what the prices will be when the temperatures are back down. They've fluctuated drastically throughout the season."

The above average temperatures and intermittent warm spells like the 70 degree scorcher Wednesday are allowing consumers of home heating oil to catch their breath when opening their checkbooks.

"It means relief for the customers cause the cost is so high," Kappeler said. "It's good for them so they can get caught up on bills."

Consumers who signed up to receive a discount on their oil purchase through the New Jersey Citizen Action Oil Group are finding they're not taking advantage of the reduced prices as much as they could be.

"We negotiate a set price above wholesale so that suppliers can't make a huge profit off members," Wende Nachman said.

According to Nachman, the average mark-up on heating oil is anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar above wholesale prices. Through her group, the mark-up usually comes in 30 to 40 cents above wholesale, amounting to about $500 in savings per year for consumers.

Nachman said more people have opted in on her group's deal from Camden, Burlington and Gloucester counties than anywhere else in the state over the past three years.

"We find consumers in South Jersey are very savvy," Nachman said. "A lot of people shop around for the best prices possible."

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