State Senate candidate Dave Renzi today called on the Attorney General and state Consumer Protection Board to help homeowners and senior citizens who are paying thousands of dollars more to heat their homes this winter because they got stuck in high-priced oil heat contracts.
Renzi said tens of thousands of homeowners, stunned by rising oil prices over the past year and looking for ways to make their winter heating costs more bearable, locked into high-priced contracts, betting that costs would continue to rise throughout the winter.
Instead, heating oil prices have plummeted, from a statewide average of $4.70 a gallon in June, to an average this week of $3.33 a gallon in the Oswego County region, and $3.45 a gallon in the Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties region, according to the state.
Still, these homeowners are forced to pay the higher price ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ meaning an average family using 1000 gallons of heating oil could pay as much as $1500 above the market price to heat this winter ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ or face exorbitant fees of $350 or more to break the contract and get a lower price.
“Big oil companies should not be allowed to profit off the backs of hardworking families, already digging deeper to stay warm this winter,” said Renzi. “State government needs to step in to help bring relief.”
Renzi said he had been approached by several voters while on the campaign trail who alerted him to the problem.
Fixed-price contracts are popular with homeowners ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ especially senior citizens and others living on fixed incomes ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ because they help families set their home heating budgets. Of course, the contracts also contain some risk, as prices often fluctuate throughout the season.
“But just as we had never seen the kind of price run-up for oil and gas that we all witnessed this summer, no one expected prices to drop so fast either,” said Renzi. “The result is more profits for big oil companies and more pain for everyday families.”
Renzi said he is asking the Attorney General and the state Consumer Protection Board to investigate whether the contracts violate state price gouging laws, and said he would explore legislation to prevent the exorbitant fees for breaking the contract when prices fall so quickly.
More than a third of families in St. Lawrence County, a quarter in Jefferson County, and about 20 percent in Oswego County heat with oil, according to the Census Bureau.
Renzi has been focused on heating prices throughout his campaign, and already has proposed a plan to help lower- and middle-income families stung by rising fuel costs.
Renzi’s plan calls for steering more heating aid to Upstate communities where winters are longer and colder. Right now, weather and temperature is not a factor in distributing heating aid. As a result, Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties receive just 2 percent of state heating aid, while downstate gets more than 75 percent, even though winters there are milder.
Renzi also supports additional funding for weatherization to help homeowners conserve energy and lower their heating costs.