Press of Atlantic City

Group Helps Members Get Cheaper Oil To Heat Homes

Press of Atlantic City — Friday, November 30, 2007

By KEVIN POST
Business Editor

With oil prices approaching $100 per barrel and home heating oil already costing more than S3 a gallon, consumers are rushing to join a statewide nonprofit group that buys oil in bulk at a discount.

Wende Nachman, director of New Jersey Citizen Action Oil Group, said 800 people have joined so far this fall, the most ever for a November since the group started in 1983.

"The phones have been so busy, we Ve got four lines and people still can't get through," Nachman said Thursday.

The oil group tracks heating oil prices throughout the state, she said, and this week they averaged $3.21 per gallon – until a pipeline fire in Minnesota Thursday morning caused the price to jump to nearly $3.50 per gallon.

The federal Energy Information Administration predicts that heating oil prices will be 66 cents per gallon higher this winter than last.

"We're getting a lot of calls from people saying they don't know how they're going to pay for oil this year," Nachman said. "They say they've been OK in the past, but not this year."

The Citizen Action Oil Group uses the bulk purchasing power of its nearly 4,000 members to get discounts on home heating oil of 10 percent to 30 percent. That saves members hundreds of dollars over the course of a heating .season, she said.

"I live in southern New Jersey and I heat with oil, and last year I saved more than $300," Nachman said. "The year before that, I saved more than $500, so it really does add up over the winter."

The oil group connects members with suppliers in their area, and members make ordinary arrangements to get their oil through them. Normal services such as budget billing, automatic tilling and tank insurance are available – but the oil is sold at the discounted group price.

Nachman said budgeting is critical for members.

"The minimum delivery purchase is usually at least 150 gallons for them to come out, so even at the current price, that's more than $500," she said, an amount many people don't have on hand. The oil group is part of New Jersey Citizen Action, a nonprofit and independent citizen watchdog group with 70,000 members.

Membership in the oil group costs $30 per year, $15 for ages 60 and older, and is free for those on state or federal assistance or who are experiencing a financial hardship, she said. Consumers may join by Calling 800-464-8465 or online at www.njcaoilgroup.com.

"It's going to be hard for a lot of people this season," Nachman said. "Hopefully, programs such as ours can help those most in need."

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