Cortlandt looking to form oil-purchasing cooperative

| Business, Government |

The town of Cortlandt is looking to start an oil-purchasing cooperative as a means of lowering energy costs for local residents.

Dr.
Rich Becker, a town councilman, is putting together the terms of a deal
with regional oil distributors that would give residents access to
lower fuel-oil prices by purchasing in bulk. The cost to the consumer
would be closer to the wholesale cost of heating oil, as opposed to the
retail rate, and Becker expects the average homeowner in town could
save $200 during the cold-weather months.

The venture could be the first in the state.

Becker,
a cardiologist who won a seat on the Town Board last year running on an
environmental platform, said he was moved to action by rising energy
costs and the heavy financial burden it places on older residents
living on fixed incomes.

"I’ve been very concerned
about what’s going to happen this winter. I’m afraid people aren’t
going to afford their heating bills in certain parts of town," he said.

Becker
said a half-dozen local and regional fuel-oil distributors have
expressed an interest in the plan, which was outlined Tuesday at Town
Hall. The co-op would allow local residents to buy fuel oil at 30 to 40
cents more than the per-gallon wholesale price of heating oil. The
retail rate is typically 60 to 70 cents more per gallon than the
wholesale price.

"It’s not a huge savings, but it’s
a help," Becker said. He noted that older residents are more prone to
infections and breathing problems when they don’t heat their homes in
the winter, a condition he has seen in his medical practice. People who
heat their homes with natural gas would not be eligible to participate.

Becker
said he researched the project and found that several municipalities on
Cape Cod offered an oil cooperative to local residents. The councilman
is working with the town administration and its legal staff, and Becker
noted that residents who sign up for the purchasing plan would also be
eligible for lower rates on emergency-maintenance provisions and energy
audits. Residents would probably be able to keep their current service
contracts.

The town administration is looking to approve the program on Sept. 16. Residents would begin signing up in a few weeks’ time.

An
analyst based in Albany said she had not heard of any other
municipalities getting involved with bulk purchasing of heating oil.

"It’s
an interesting idea," said Laura Haight, a senior environmental
associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group, a
good-government advocacy group. She said the town needed to do its
homework to make sure hidden costs aren’t involved.

"When
you buy in bulk, you can buy at better rates. But you have to take a
close look," Haight said. Noting that alternative-energy sources and
projects are gaining higher visibility, Haight said: "There are new
opportunities out there for government to rethink their energy policies
and purchasing choices."

Nora Hogan, a social
worker who works with the elderly population in Cortlandt, has spoken
with many seniors who are anxious about heating their homes. A
Westchester County program offers financial aid to seniors for their
energy costs, but it has fairly strict income eligibility requirements,
she said.

"Most definitely, it’s an issue," Hogan
said. "I get a lot of inquiries about it. A lot of seniors are on very,
very fixed incomes. I hear from seniors (asking): ‘Am I going to have
to put my money toward heating, food or medication?"