With spring arriving, there is a natural tendency to start anew, to enjoy the revival that accompanies warmer temperatures, longer days and the fresh greening of our state.
Maine consumers also can savor relatively steady energy costs.
AAA reported that Maine’s average gasoline prices are 43 cents a gallon higher ($2.30) than a year ago, yet the pricing trend now is moving downward again as inventory levels remain high and demand across the country is mostly flat. More efficient vehicles, a slight expansion of alternative fueled products, total driving miles steady ̶ all have contributed to that leveling of demand.
Consistent surveys by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) suggest 75 percent of drivers agree that gas prices affect their general feelings about the economy. For many, $4-a-gallon gas seems to be the magic number at which they cut back gasoline consumption. Thankfully, we now are not even close to that level of driving cost.
Heating oil prices showed modest gains this past winter, yet with degree days 10 percent below the 30-year average (the 2015-2016 winter was 20 percent below the 30-year average), oil prices moderated across the state. With more propane fuel conversions and the addition of more heat pumps into homes, plus steady wood and pellet use and some alternative energy expansion, consumers have enjoyed manageable costs for the second winter in a row. In our rural economy, money not spent on heating fuel usually is spent elsewhere.
OPEC’s efforts to lower production to stimulate crude oil prices on the world stage have been stymied by American ingenuity. New wells in West Texas and North Dakota have raised U.S. oil production, countering OPEC’s initiatives to lower production and raise the price of world crude.
With their economies in disarray – another upside to low oil prices worldwide – the Middle East and Russia may find themselves inhibited in their efforts to create more mayhem.
The outlook for propane, frequently in short supply in the Northeast, also is brighter. Exxon recently announced that it is investing $20 billion in the Gulf of Mexico, mostly for natural gas. A recent Alaskan oil find is the largest in 30 years in the north. Meanwhile, fracking continues to pay huge dividends, keeping our national energy costs in check.
With fewer concerns about driving costs, there should be widespread energy optimism, both for the national economy and our local tourism-dependent economy.