written by Aleta Rogers, Heating Oil Manager at the Energy Co-op
The bitter cold and snow of winter 2014 has caused energy prices to soar and has particularly been unkind to heating oil users. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average US retail price for home heating oil was at $4.24 per gallon on February 5. This is 14.9 cents higher than it was a year ago, based on the residential heating fuel survey done by the EIA. For a 275 gallon tank fill up, the average consumer will pay $40.98 more than they did in 2013. Pair those prices with the polar vortex in January and those heating bills quickly add up.
In times like these, the value of buying cooperatively is easy to see. When a consumer joins a heating oil cooperative, they receive the benefits negotiated for the whole group. Benefits include a lower price on heating oil, discounts on repairs and service contracts, and help mediating disputes. As the Heating Oil Program Manager for The Energy Co-op, I am most familiar with our program, so I will present the value of membership when it comes to joining our Co-op.
For those readers who are members of the Swarthmore Food Co-op, I probably don’t need to mention the general benefit of buying cooperatively. For those unfamiliar, when you join a co-op, you become a member-owner. This means that you have voting rights and are able to provide valuable input and feedback to help improve the cooperative experience and have a say in your organization. Also, buying from a local co-op benefits your community by supporting local jobs and keeping money in your area to support the local economy. Co-ops can also harness group buying power to help cut down on costs, which in my opinion is the primary benefit of joining The Energy Co-op for heating oil.
The rate for members of The Energy Co-op is a negotiated, fixed margin that is added to the daily wholesale price. The ideas is that the wholesale price changes daily with the market, but the fixed margin is set for one to two year periods, depending on the length of the contract with the oil supplier, so you always know exactly where your price is coming from. Last season, our members saw an average savings of $0.21 per gallon compared to the average residential heating oil price in PA. The cold temperatures and volatile prices we have seen this winter have brought in new members who were paying $0.50 a gallon over The Co-op price!
Another benefit of membership is getting help when you have an issue with your supplier. The heating oil industry is unregulated, so when disputes pop up, the consumer does not have the option to go to the Pennsylvania Utility Commission like they can with electricity or gas. Members of The Co-op however, can bring their disputes to Co-op staff members to help get them resolved. With contracts in place that protect our members, staff can enforce issues covered by the contract. Additionally, The Co-op can often use our relationship with the oil supplier to mediate any dispute not written into the contract.
As a member of The Co-op, you receive the same options you would with your current supplier. You have the choice of automatic or will-call delivery, several payment options including budget billing, and discounted service contracts available from select suppliers. If you choose will-call delivery, there is a 150 minimum gallon requirement. Those living in the Swarthmore area also have the option to go with a supplier offering Bioheat, which has 2% biodiesel mixed into standard heating oil, allowing it to burn cleaner and reduce emissions.
Similar to other buying groups and cooperatives, there are annual membership dues of $15. If this is ever a financial constraint for you, we are also able to offer dues waivers to anyone who requests it, allowing us to keep our membership open to everyone.
Buying heating oil through The Energy Co-op is a prime example of empowered consumers working together to better themselves economically and have a say with their energy choices. If you are interested in joining, you can learn more at http://TheEnergy.Coop or by calling 215.413.2122 x2. We believe informed consumers make responsible choices. Learn about your options and shop around. You may just find shopping cooperatively can lower your heating oil bills this winter.
The Energy Co-op is a local nonprofit, member-owned cooperative with over 6600 members in Southeastern PA. The Co-op was founded by Weaver’s Way in 1979 as a heating oil aggregator employing group buying power on behalf of our members. Since then, The Co-op has grown to become a PUC licensed renewable electricity supplier, as well as a biodiesel distributor to large fleets of vehicles. The mission of The Co-op is to provide members access to renewable energy at affordable prices.