Initiative introduces greener heating oil standards

Written on: July 22, 2014 by ICM

By Evan Popp For the Rutland Herald : As of July 1, Vermont heating oil will have markedly fewer parts per million of sulfur, per the 2011 Vermont Energy Act.
The Clean and Green Oilheat portion of the act states that on July 1, 2014, Vermont fuel dealers are required to sell heating oil with less than 500 parts per million of sulfur. By 2018, the limit on sulfur in heating oil will be reduced to less than 15 parts per million. The sulfur will be replaced by biodiesel, which the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association Executive Director Matt Cota said is greener than sulfur, and is produced in the United States.
“We’re taking the components of heating oil that were termed dirty and we’re removing them,” Cota said. “It’s going to be much better for the environment.”
Cota said the goal of the heating oil industry is to have all heating oil in the United States be renewable by 2050. With the Clean and Green Oilheat Initiative, Vermont heating oil industries are on their way to making that goal a reality, he said. And it’s not just happening in Vermont.
“This is happening across the Northeast,” Cota said. “Ninety percent of heating oil is sold in those areas. And these areas have all adopted these standards.”
According to a report written by the President and CEO of the New England Fuel Institute, Michael C. Trunzo, on April 21, five out of six New England states currently have plans in place to move to heating oil with less than 15 parts per million of sulfur by July of 2018. As of now, New Hampshire is the only New England state yet to propose or enact a law to require lower amounts of sulfur in heating oil.
In addition to the five New England states, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania have also passed similar low-sulfur heating oil requirements, according to the Fuel Institute report. In 2012, New York became the first state to enact the regulations, requiring that heating oil contain less than 15 parts per million of sulfur.
There has been some concern that taking a large portion of sulfur out of heating oil and holding the industry to higher environmental standards might come with a cost increase to consumers. But Cota said that will not be the case. He said that in the short term there might be a small cost increase but that it is not expected to be significant.
“Taking the sulfur out, there is a slight cost,” Cota said. “But that cost is more than offset by the economic advantage of burning more environmentally sound oil.”
In fact, according to a news release sent out by VFDA, several studies have shown that the switch to low sulfur heating oil might actually save as much as 12 cents per gallon.
According to Cota, the low sulfur initiative came about as a result of increased consumer demand for more environmentally sound heating oil and he said the initiative represents an unusual case in which the VFDA has teamed up with the environmental lobby and the Shumlin administration.
“This is one of those rare instances when there is very little opposition to a law,” he said. “We all recognized what consumers wanted and what they wanted was a cleaner, more renewable product.”
As heating oil becomes greener, Cota has been touting the environmental benefits of heating oil versus natural gas, saying the former is cleaner. He said that natural gas will never be a renewable source of energy, while heating oil has the chance to be if not fully renewable, then at least partially so.
When asked about proven sources of renewable energy like wind and solar, Cota said those are not the energy sources the heating oil industry is competing against. He said that while, for example, solar is great for heating water and appliances, homeowners need something a little more to warm their entire homes. According to Cota, half of Vermonters use heating oil.
Cota also said the initiative will represent a massive improvement in efficiency. He said that with biodiesel- based heating oil, there is less of a need to clean out furnaces and other heating oil appliances.
The Clean and Green Oil heat law will be enforced through the Agency of Natural Resources. Cota said most heating oil dealers have been moving toward taking the sulfur out of their product for a couple of years now and he expects the transition to low sulfur heating oil to go smoothly.