The cost for a gallon of heating oil in Maine has hit a record high.
Mainers should expect to pay an average of $5.71 per gallon for number two heating oil and $7.07 per gallon of kerosene, according to Gov. Janet Mills‘ energy office.
That’s the highest price in three decades for home heating fuel in Maine, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which keeps price records going back to 1990.
Most Mainers will need about 1,000 gallons to get through the winter, which works out to $5,710 dollars. That’s an increase of more than $2550 over what the same amount of fuel would have cost with the prices from November last year.
Roughly 70 percent of Maine homes use number two heating oil, which is chemically identical to diesel fuel, to heat their homes.
The soaring cost of staying warm this winter only compounds the crunch many Mainers are feeling as the price of groceries, clothing, automobiles, and just about everything has soared due to runaway inflation.
Lower income Mainers can get some help from a taxpayer funded program administered by Maine Housing Authority, but getting an application in isn’t as easy as it should be.
In April, the Legislature passed a bipartisan bill that instructed MaineHousing to build an online web portal to streamline applications.
So far, that online portal is non-existent.
Without that easy online application process, those in need to government assistance to stay warm this November must instead call one of MaineHousing non-profit sub-contractors to schedule a separate phone call where they can apply.
A Maine Wire investigation found many of those sub-contractors have long waiting lists and some are booking initial appointments as far out as the end of January.
The failure of MaineHousing to create the website lawmakers approved in April in time for the heating season hasn’t stopped applicants from finding their way into the Low-income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP), according to information provided by MaineHousing Communications Director Scott Thistle.
Thistle said MaineHousing has paid out roughly $15 million in benefits already this year, which is much more then the $9 million it had paid out this time last year.
For Mainers facing emergency heating situations, a separate program is available that can provide help much faster than LIHEAP.
“The Energy Crisis Intervention Program (ECIP) started on November 1 and we have issued authorization of up to $161,000 in benefits for households in crisis situations,” said Thistle.
He said the online application for LIHEAP is in the works and should be live by the end of November.
The Maine Energy Marketers Association, a trade group that represents oil dealers in Maine, has also called on the Mills Administration to take regulatory steps that would boost supply and ease prices, especially in northern Maine.
The group wants Mills’ energy office to issue a waiver that would allow dealers to import non-low sulfur fuel oil. The import of fuel with a higher sulfur content has been banned in Maine for more than three years due to concerns about climate change, but the fuel would work perfectly well in furnaces across northern Maine.
The Mills administration reinterpreted part of that rule to allow for the importation of kerosene with a higher sulfur content, but it did not take a similarly creative view of the regulation with regard to number two heating oil.
Instead, the administration asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency for permission to take steps that would increase supply of the fuel.
Mills energy office hasn’t said whether the EPA has granted Maine permission to waive the sulfur content rules.
Her office did release a helpful “2022-2023 Winter Heating Season Tips and Resources” sheet that blamed fossil fuel prices, which started to rise well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on Vladimir Putin.