The current priorities of the Oilheat Manufacturers Association (OMA) are passage of legislation to re-authorize the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) and the establishment of tax credits or rebates for customers who purchase high-efficiency equipment, association leaders said.
‘Obviously right now our number one issue is getting NORA renewed,” said Bob Hedden, executive director of OMA. ‘We’re getting there this time around,” Hedden said.
The main challenge is ‘the do-nothing Congress,” Hedden observed, but he added, ‘We haven’t got any enemies in the Senate or the House. We have a lot of friends that are trying to help us move forward. We’re slowly building, we’re getting more and more co-sponsors, and getting more and more enthusiasm built up” for reauthorization. ‘We’re guardedly optimistic. There’s a lot more work to be done, but we’re definitely hoping to get it [re-authorized] in this Congress” ‘ meaning this year or next.
The federal law authorizing NORA expired on February 6, 2010. Since then, industry advocates and a bipartisan group of supporters in Congress have been working to renew or “reauthorize” NORA.
Efforts stalled in the last Congress due in large part to objections from then-Chairman of the Energy Committee Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), but Bingaman has since retired, and proponents of NORA are ‘very optimistic” about prospects for reauthorization in the current Congress, Hedden told OMA members at a meeting back in May. That same month, Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.) introduced new legislation (S.913) that would renew NORA through 2019 and allow the industry to resume collection of the two-tenths of a cent per gallon check-off which funds the program, Hedden noted.
The bill also requires NORA to increase investments into research and development and sets aside 15 percent of funds to directly assist consumers in upgrading to more efficient heating systems or improving the efficiency and safety of existing systems. The bill also provides funds for oilheat consumer education and employee training.
“NORA brings tangible benefits to Oilheat consumers,” Shaheen said in a statement. ‘NORA gives a direct path for responsible, domestically-produced and efficient energy consumption. This bill is smart, bipartisan policy that helps consumers, American businesses and the environment and will be a value to the country for many years to come.”
Collins said NORA ‘directly benefits oilheat consumers in Maine. I support efforts to improve equipment efficiency, increase safety, and conserve fuel, and I am pleased to be part of the bipartisan effort to renew NORA’s authorization and strengthen the program.”
OMA’s effort to establish tax credits or rebates for the purchase of high efficiency equipment, as well as its aims to increase the use of ultra-low sulfur fuel and biofuel have become more focused on the states, Hedden said.
‘I think most of the action and legislation and regulation has moved to the states because the states are realizing that the federal government is just totally paralyzed at this point,” Hedden said, ‘and the only way to get anything done is at the state level.”
Environmentalists, natural gas companies and the utilities have come to the same realization, Hedden noted, ‘so we’re very busy at the state level. That’s where we spend an awful lot of our time and effort ‘ working with the state associations” to support oilheat as well as bills that would provide rebates or tax credits on high-efficiency equipment.
Hedden highlighted Vermont as a state where noteworthy progress has been made.
‘The oil dealers and the home performance contractors are actually starting to work as partners to upgrade houses instead of working against each other,” in Vermont, Hedden said.
OMA works with Efficiency Vermont, an organization that provides technical assistance, rebates, and other financial incentives to help Vermont households and businesses reduce their energy costs with energy-efficient equipment, lighting, and approaches to construction and major renovation. Efficiency Vermont, operated by a private nonprofit organization, partners with contractors, suppliers, and retailers of efficient products and services throughout the state, according to its website.
OMA’s goal to push implementation of ultra-low sulfur fuel is a good example of a campaign that began on broad scale and now is being pursued state by state, Hedden said. After the broad or national effort struggled to gain traction, the state-based approach has made some headway, notably in New York State last year, he said.
‘Just about every oilheat state at this point has a plan to implement ULSD,” Hedden observed. ‘It’s just that they are three or four or five years out in some cases. We’re trying to shorten up that time and get it introduced quicker.”
OMA is also advocating for biofuel. The Oilheat Institute of Rhode Island, headed by Executive Director/CEO Julie Gill ‘just had a very nice victory,” Hedden said. The governor of Rhode Island signed legislation that will ensure all of Rhode Island’s heating oil becomes Bioheat by 2014, according to a report by the National Biodiesel Board in its magazine. Starting July 1, 2014, every gallon of oil heat in Rhode Island will contain at least 2 percent biodiesel, the board reported. The legislation gradually increases the blend from 2 percent to 5 percent by 2017.
Peter J. Cullen, chief operating officer, Wohler USA, Inc., Danvers, Mass., and chairman of OMA, singled out the research and development funds that OMA invests ‘to try to help all of the manufacturers in the industry do a better job of providing equipment and services to keep the industry strong.”
‘It’s vital that we do everything in our power” to battle the ‘alarming number of gas conversions that we’ve seen in the last few years,” Cullen said. ‘We really have increased efficiency and cleanliness of operations.” Fuel oil and oilheat equipment have made ‘tremendous strides” to become ‘eco-friendly,” Cullen said.
Roger Marran, president of Energy Kinetics, Lebanon, N.J., who is vice chair of OMA, said that a key question is, ‘How do we communicate the benefits of selling high-efficiency equipment?” He said, ‘High efficiency is the cornerstone of what we need to be competitive.”
Marran cited research within NORA’s Fuel Savings Analysis (FSA) program, particularly a study by NORA and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority detailing that the savings to be realized through high-efficiency equipment can save a consumer more than one-third on a typical fuel bill.
That research finding is a big selling point for fuel oil dealers since, as Marran noted, ‘with today’s prices a lot of dealers are focused ‘ as much as they can be ‘ on helping their customers have as an affordable heating season as they can.”