The U.S. Department of Energy, the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG), and the National Association of State Energy Officials last week co-sponsored a workshop and simulation exercise for winter fuels emergencies. Held in Manchester, New Hampshire, the workshop brought federal and state energy officials together with industry representatives to test regional emergency plans, lines of communication, and cooperation during a simulated energy emergency brought on by adverse weather conditions.
"We must do everything possible to make sure the people of the Northeast stay warm and safe this winter," said New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen, Chair of CONEG. "I am pleased that the Northeast states, federal agencies and the fuels industry have joined together to ensure that the region is prepared to respond promptly to any heating fuel supply problems that might emerge. In addition to these emergency planning sessions, we continue to work with the Administration and Congress to ensure that adequate funding is available this heating season for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP," the governor continued.
"The economy is strong and energy demands have increased, which means the Northeast is entering this winter with extremely low inventories of heating oil and diesel fuel," said Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson. "Although the winter fuels supply situation in the Northeast is tight, it appears adequate. Still, we want to do everything we can to avoid a situation similar to last year, when a cold snap caused supply disruptions and price increases."
The Energy Department today also added a special home heating assistance hotline to 1-800 -Dial-DOE, the department's toll-free consumer resource. The hotline will operate Monday - Friday with operator assistance from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. eastern time, and will have recorded information available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Through the hotline, the Energy Department will provide free referrals to state officials who can help callers determine if they qualify for benefits from LIHEAP or the Energy Department's weatherization Program. In addition, 1-800-Dial-DOE can help consumers get free information on how to lower their energy bills and can provide literature about heating oil, propane and natural gas pricing issues.
The workshop included discussions about each group?s roles and responsibilities in responding to energy emergencies, advance monitoring and reporting systems for fuel supplies, and the Northeast Heating Oil Reserve, created by President Clinton last July. Workshop participants determined that much has been learned from the experience of last year's winter fuels emergency. New state programs to monitor energy supplies and encourage inventory buildup will help states deal more effectively with supply shortages.
Additionally, extensive public education programs by federal agencies, states and industry are informing consumers about actions they can take B such as fuel price contracts, home weatherization and other energy conservation measures B to manage the risks of variable fuel prices and supply. The federal government's establishment of a Northeast Heating Oil Reserve adds another level of security for responding to supply problems. The energy emergency response planning exercise helped federal, state and industry officials identify more timely and effective ways to share information about fuel supplies and price, and to coordinate responses across the region.