Monday, December 28, 2015

Oil cheaper than pellets in NS

It's been less than a year since my last heating cost comparison, but the economics has changed significantly.  In eastern Canada, and likely northeastern US as well, heating with oil is now cheaper than pellets.  The low price of crude (below US$40 per barrel) is one factor in this, but not the only one.

Market conditions in the northeast have brought wholesale heating oil prices as low as US$1.10 per gallon.  Although heating oil usually sells for more than gasoline since it generates more heat when burned than gasoline, it has been trading for 10-15c per gallon less than gasoline over the past couple months.  High inventories combined with a milder than average winter so far have caused a supply/demand imbalance that has pushed prices low.

Just after I wrote my last heating cost comparison, CBC ran an article about a shortage of pellets.  Continued strong export demand for pellets (probably fueled by the low Canadian dollar) has kept pellet prices high.  So far this season I have not seen pellets selling for less than C$5.99 per bag.  While pellet prices have gone up by about 10%, the price of furnace oil has dropped by almost 25%.  Since last week, independent dealers have been selling furnace oil for C$0.72 per litre.

Heating with pellets now costs 2.49c/kBTU, versus 2.38c/kBTU for oil.   When taxes are accounted for pellets cost 2.87c/kBTU, and oil 2.5c/kBTU.  Although there is a heating assistance rebate available for low income families heating with pellets, the provincial portion of the HST (10%) is rebated on all heating oil sales in the province.  By those numbers, oil is 13% cheaper than pellets.  If you have to pay for delivery for your pellets, the difference is likely more than 15%.

I don't expect pellet prices to improve, but I think oil prices are about as low as they will get this heating season.  Time to fill up that tank!