The Fight for Fuel Oil



‘I’ve never seen an administration more aggressive about trying to destroy what your fathers and grandfathers built,” Chris Herb told members of the National Association of Oil & Energy Service Professionals (OESP).


The administration that Herb, interim president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, was assailing was not that of President Barack Obama, but that of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut. That state’s proposed energy plan unfairly favors natural gas at the expense of fuel oil, Herb told 100 or so OESP members who gathered in April at Nuchie’s, a restaurant in Forestville, Conn. Herb vowed that the Marketers Association would fight for an even playing field for fuel oil dealers.


The conflict in Connecticut seems to mirror a larger one that pits the fuel oil and natural gas industries against each other regionally and nationally. In that bigger battle, the Obama administration appears to be showing some signs of favoring the natural gas industry, according to the New England Fuel Institute’s online newsletter, NEON.


The newsletter reported that Energy Secretary-nominee Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist and a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., called for a major expansion in natural gas at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy Committee in April. Moniz called the surge in natural gas production a “revolution” that has lowered energy costs for manufacturers and others and resulted in a decline in U.S. carbon emissions to their lowest levels since 1994, the newsletter reported.

In his annual budget request, also in April, the president asked Congress to reduce funding for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Fuel Institute reported in its newsletter. The president requested $3.02 billion for LIHEAP, a 13 percent ($450 million) cut from last year, the newsletter reported, noting that it was the fourth budget in a row in which the president proposed reducing fuel assistance.


Fuel oil dealers who want to keep up with these and other issues can do so by visiting websites such as those of Fuel Oil News, NEFI and their respective state associations.


Meanwhile, the contentiousness in Connecticut is prompting Herb to raise an alarm and a rallying cry. He told the service professionals’ group that the state’s plan included a proposal to help some 3,000 heating oil customers convert to natural gas.


A bill in the Connecticut State House calls for amortization of the cost of converting a residence to natural gas, Herb said. ‘Your customers don’t get twenty-five years to pay for new equipment, do they?” he asked the OESP members.


Another proposal, in which the state would have levied a three-and-a-half cent per gallon tax on home heating oil, was defeated through the efforts of the Marketers Association and others, Herb said.


Al Breda, president of the National Alliance of Oil & Energy Service Professionals, and service manager for Sippin Energy Products in Monroe, Conn., said, ‘The state is taking taxpayer money and giving it to the gas utilities to make it easier for people to convert.” The state proposal would allow consumers to finance conversions ‘over many, many years with no down payment,” Breda said. ‘We’re not afforded that luxury,” he said of the fuel oil industry.


‘If I’m going to put an oil burner in your house and charge you seven, eight thousand dollars, you’ve got to have a down payment and get a payment plan,” Breda said. ‘It’s extremely unfair.”


The Comprehensive Energy Strategy for Connecticut, detailed by Gov. Malloy in February in a statement, aims to bring down energy costs for both residents and businesses.


‘Focusing on innovative approaches to energy efficiency’cost effective renewable power, smarter building management, and expanded use of low-cost natural gas, we are reducing consumer costs, making the state more competitive, and creating good jobs with good benefits,”  the governor said.


‘The Comprehensive Energy Strategy calls on Connecticut’s gas utilities to detail how to make low-cost, domestic natural gas an option available to hundreds of thousands of residents and 75 percent of the state’s businesses in the next seven years,” Malloy said. The plan includes a proposal to offer a $500 tax credit to consumers who switch to natural gas.





Apprenticeship Tradition Remains Strong


The benefits of apprenticeships accrue to employers at least as much as they do to apprentices, said Al Breda, president of the National Alliance of Energy Service Professionals (OESP).


‘I always have apprentices,” said Breda, who is service manager for Sippin Energy Products in Monroe, Conn. ‘I don’t even know how many apprentices I’ve signed off on,” Breda said, though he recalled that the first was in 1993.

‘It’s almost impossible to hire qualified people that are really trained and ready to go,” Breda said. ‘Someone you could just toss the keys to and say, ‘Okay, go out to Mrs. Smith’s house and take care of business.’ It’s so unusual that you’re going to get somebody like that.”

Instead, Breda said, ‘You get a kid that’s got potential and you teach him your way. Those are the ones that have the real staying power.”

Breda described the relationship between an apprentice and an employer as ‘very reciprocal.” He added, ‘You appreciate them and they appreciate you ‘ and usually you have a very long employment history with those kinds of guys.”

Vinnie Valente, program manager in the Connecticut Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship Training, outlined how apprenticeships work for attendees of an OESP gathering in April in Forestville, Conn.

Apprentices in the program must be at least 16 years old, Valente said. An employer can take on an apprentice whether or not the workplace is unionized.

Full-time work and classroom time are required components of an apprenticeship in Connecticut, which must last at least one year, and must include 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of instruction.

In reply to a question from Mike Collins of Somers Mechanical Services, Somers, Conn., Valente confirmed that apprentices can, in certain cases, receive academic credit. For more information on the Connecticut apprenticeship program, visit

Including the host Connecticut Valley chapter, six chapters of the OESP were represented at the meeting at Nuchie’s restaurant in Forestville, Conn. The chapters were: Garden State (New Jersey); Eastern Connecticut; Fairfield County, Connecticut; New Haven, Connecticut; and the Pioneer Valley chapter from Massachusetts. Rick Glownia, secretary of the Connecticut Valley chapter, oversaw the meeting.


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