With the home heating season starting up this month, the question of what fuel to use has never been so puzzling.
Homeowners and landlords struggle over the idea of whether they should continue heating with their old oil systems, maybe update them, or make the conversion to natural gas.
It’s a decision that many have made over the last 30 years, and one that has tended to favor natural gas, according to Census figures.
While the U.S. Census is known for gauging population, it also takes surveys of hundreds of other trends and details in the lives of United States residents, including those in Revere.
One of the pieces of date revealed in the newly released American Community Survey is how Revere resident heat their homes.
According to those 2010 numbers, oil versus gas has taken a complete flip since 1980.
The 2010 numbers showed that 52 percent of owner-occupied properties in Revere heated with gas, while 40 percent of owner-occupied properties heated with oil. Some 10 percent heated with electricity in 2010.
The numbers for renter-occupied housing units was even more in favor of natural gas, where 55 percent heat with gas, 25 percent with electricity and only 15 percent of the rental units had heating oil.
Those numbers are exactly the opposite of what was true in 1980.
That Census showed that of all occupied housing units (both owner-occupied and rentals), there were 57 percent that used heating oil. At the time, natural gas accounted for 33 percent and electricity 8 percent.
The vast majority of homes still contained an oil tank and an oil burner, which had been the case for many decades in Revere and most other New England cities.
In 1990, the Census numbers began to show a change.
That year, some 46 percent of all occupied units reported using heating oil, while 38 percent used natural gas. Electricity users also increased, with 13 percent.
For the past decade, National Grid and its predecessors have run strong campaigns in cities like Revere – often giving incentives and rebates for those who make the switch.
The Journal contacted National Grid on the subject and they said they are actively seeking new customers. However, they weren’t able to provide any additional details for the story before deadline.
The Massachusetts Oil Heat Council told the Journal that the gas companies have been aggressive in their recruitment, but also said that not everything they say is true.
“The utilities are very predatory and very aggressive on this,” said Michael Ferrante (not the Revere School Committeeman) of the Council. “They know they can convince consumers here because it’s a large market for them. They’ve gotten aggressive and have been successful in many respects with taking a larger part of the market.”
Ferrante said he felt that most of those conversions are due to the price of heating oil, which has gone up rather steeply in the last 10 years.
“I do think the primary driver in fuel conversion is the cost of our fuel versus theirs,” he said. “One can argue the environmental things they claim…They’re impacting the environment a lot with greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a fact, but the price of their product now per gallon is about $1.75 less than heating oil. Who knows where it will be in 10 years, but now it is cheaper.”
He also said that residents should do a full workup of costs, and not be lured by freebies or environmentally friendly arguments.
“It is very expensive to convert,” he said. “People have to do the math and really figure everything in. It can roughly cost 7, 8 or 10 grand to convert, especially if they don’t’ already have gas service. Putting in a new line is a very big deal. They aggressively promote the idea of helping the environment in their advertising and they do mislead people on that. There’s no issue with whether or not they are. They do.”
Ferrante said that what has hurt oil heat the most has been worldwide demand for diesel fuel – as heating oil is a nearly identical product to diesel. When demand went up and the oil markets began to become less predictable, he said many people panicked.
“The price of crude has remained high for 12 months of the year,” he said. “There was a shift on that in 2007. Crude oil prices always fell in the summer and it was a great time for heating oil companies to buy their reserves. That has changed and the price for crude has stayed high all year. We’re a victim of the world economy where there is a tremendous demand for all our fuels.”
Meanwhile, natural gas has become popular because it is produced within the United States, with most supplies coming from the Midwest and Southwest. With new techniques to extract natural gas, industry experts have said that prices for the time being have gone down due to a larger supply.
At the same time, those new techniques for extracting natural gas have come under fire by environmental groups and residents that live in those regions.