Energy Matters Update – January 14, 2008
Innovative waste-oil recycling program
helps families pay power bills
Longtime NW Energy Coalition member Oregon HEAT has come up with another groundbreaking way to help low-income families cope with steep heating bills … and benefit the environment at the same time.
The project involves recycling waste oil and sludge from homeowners’ decommissioned heating-oil tanks and other sources, then turning the proceeds into emergency energy-assistance dollars for needy families.
It’s all part of the “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” creed of Oregon HEAT (Home Energy Assistance Team), a non-profit organization that develops and coordinates resources to help low-income Oregonians meet their energy needs and achieve energy self-reliance through energy education and advocacy.
Out with the old
The new project replaces and improves upon a previous program. For many years, Oregon HEAT partnered with Sonshine Oil Co. on a small, but effective, fuel-oil assistance program. Homeowners switching from oil heat to other sources — a continuing trend — must decommission their oil tanks, which involves pumping out all the used oil. Sonshine Oil would remove the oil and redistribute it to needy families. The donors would receive tax deductions on the oil’s value.
The small program had limitations. Sonshine couldn’t handle the sludge or water that collects in the tanks over the years, so homeowners had to pay to clean the tank anyway. Sonshine served only the Portland metro area. And the oil donations helped only a relatively small number of low-income families using oil heat. Most importantly, Sonshine was about to lose its storage facility, thus ending the program.
Oregon HEAT executive director Roger Rees’s search for another fuel-oil company led him to Oil Re-Refining Co. (ORRCO) and its CEO, Bill Briggs. Rather than merely replicating the old program, Briggs and Rees examined its shortcomings and devised a new program that, even in its infancy, is receiving national attention.
In with the new
As a refiner, ORRCO can take the sludge as well as the reusable oil. And since the company can process any oil-related wastes, such as transmission or hydraulic fluid, Rees and Briggs were able to expand the program to include commercial and industrial donors: oil-change companies, garages, car dealers, municipal and school district motor pools, etc.
ORRCO’s statewide scope deepened the pool of potential donors. Storage seemed a problem, so ORRCO came up with a solution that greatly improved the program. Instead of giving the oil to needy families, ORRCO re-refines and sells the used fuels. Oregon HEAT uses the cash to provide emergency energy-bill assistance to families, regardless of which fuel they use.
Oregon HEAT is quickly building the program, establishing regular collections at businesses and government agencies that generate waste-oil products.
“The public-relations benefit for companies that can recycle noxious wastes while helping poor families is a key to the program’s success,” Rees said. Businesses whose volumes are too small for cost-effective recycling can now recycle their fuel wastes rather than sending them to landfills. Finally, homeowners who decommission their oil tanks can avoid pumping and clean-up costs AND do good things for their communities.
In its first 50 days, the program garnered commitments of about 5,000 gallons of oil, valued at more than $10,000. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Rees, who’s been contacted by potential donors in Vancouver, Wash. The word’s getting out, and Rees is talking about the program with people from all over the country.
For more info, go to: www.oregonheat.org
In other low-income news …
Avista Utilities, another NW Energy Coalition member, has significantly boosted its financial commitment to its low-income customers.
Its recent rate-case settlement with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission includes an additional $200,000 in funding for low-income demand-side management and an additional $236,000 for low-income rate assistance. The hikes bring the company’s total program commitments to $2.2 million and $1.1 million a year, respectively.