New state law cutting sulfur content makes heating oil cleaner and greener [Rep-Am]

July 21, 2014


Homeowners are burning cleaner, more efficient home heating oil thanks to a new state law that reduces the sulfur content of oil available to the state’s retailers.

“This industry has been based on giving the best service to its customers, and this fuel does just that,” said Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, or CEMA, which has pushed for the legislation for several years. “It’s the cleanest, most efficient fuel possible. That’s what consumers demand, so this is what we’re giving them.”

Herb said the new legislation requires the sulfur content of oil brought to Connecticut’s roughly 25 home heating oil terminals from outside the state be reduced by 84 percent, to 500 parts per million from 3,000 parts per million. The content is lowered, he said, by mixing the home heating oil with diesel fuel, which has an ultra-low sulfur content of 15 parts per million.

The low-sulfur mixture of 500 parts per million is also prepared at the terminals, where about 600 oil retailers across the state pick up their oil from about 30 suppliers, he said.

Because it produces less soot, the low-sulfur oil — which can contain up to 5 percent bioheat fuel — burns much more efficiently and cleaner, thus resulting in less wear and tear on home heating systems.

“The consumer actually wins with this fuel,” he said.

Herb said CEMA proposed the legislation in January 2013, and the state legislature approved it in June 2013 as part of broader legislation concerning energy. It went into effect on July 1 this year.

The law was approved as an amendment to Public Act 13-298, “An Act Concerning Implementation of Connecticut’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy and Various Revisions to the Energy Statutes.”

CEMA tried to get passage of a federal law that required the low-sulfur oil in 2007, but that effort failed. It proposed the state law after New York passed an ultra-low sulfur law in 2012, Herb said.

CEMA waited for New York — the nation’s largest consumer of oil heat — to pass a low-sulfur law so that Connecticut suppliers would not charge retailers high prices for low-sulfur home heating oil by being the only state in the region to offer it, he said.

“One of the concerns was that if Connecticut’s fuel standards were lower than the rest of the region, Connecticut would become a ’boutique fuel’ state,” Herb said. “When New York state changed its legislation, it sent a signal that there was strength in numbers.”

Massachusetts and Rhode Island also adopted legislation requiring low-sulfur home heating oil as of July 1, Herb said. Other Northeast states that have passed or plan to pass low-sulfur laws include Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont.

Herb said the new law is not expected to affect the state’s home heating oil prices, which averaged $3.74 per gallon as of July 15.

The new law also requires the sulfur-content limit be lowered to 15 parts per million by July 2018, resulting in a 99.5 percent reduction in sulfur from the previous standard, he said.

“When that happens, we’ll be cleaner than natural gas,” Herb said. “This is exciting for consumers and our industry.”

The new law was included in the broader legislation to require a cleaner fuel without increasing costs to consumers, said Sen. Clark J. Chapin, R-New Milford.

“We were assured that the market was moving in this direction anyway, and that 500 parts per million was easily achievable by July 1, 2014,” said Chapin, a ranking member of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee. “By not requiring 15 parts per million until 2018, we have the ability to revisit the issue if it looks like 15 parts per million is not realistic, or if it will cause an increase in price.”

The low-sulfur oil helps to improve consumer’s perception of home heating oil as a toxic form of energy, said Peter Aziz, president and CEO of Bantam Fuel in Litchfield.

“This is a revolutionary change in the identity of our industry,” said Aziz, who is also CEMA’s chairman. “This reduction in sulfur is another nail in the coffin in the naive perception that oil is dirty.”