Secretary of State William F. Galvin, wary of a winter spike in already-high home heating oil prices, is calling for a state appropriation of as much as $50 million to help tamp down costs to consumers.
Galvin said there are several possibilities for using state money to help drive down the price of heating oil for low-income and middle-income residents, including the purchase by the state of a large quantity of heating oil as a hedge against a later spike in prices.
He also said the money could be used to provide direct subsidies to consumers or price guarantees to wholesalers.
The secretary of state’s duties do not include energy policy, but Galvin said he’s raising the issue because of its urgency, and because he’s concerned it may not get adequate attention as the Baker administration winds down after almost eight years in office. A new governor will be elected in November and sworn into office in January.
“With the transition in the governor’s office coming during the coldest month of the year, we need to be planning for the potential crisis now,” he said.
“I don’t know what the solution is, but I know there’s a problem and it needs to be talked about now,” he said. “What I want is a discussion.”
An appropriation would require a vote of the Legislature. Galvin said he has had some informal conversations on his proposal with lawmakers. He said his proposal is to place the reserve fund in the care of the state treasurer’s office.
Massachusetts is among the states most dependent on heating oil in the country, with about one-quarter of households burning oil for heat.
The cost of home heating oil, unlike natural gas and electricity, is unregulated. Last winter, heating oil users in Massachusetts absorbed a 57 percent price increase, compared with the previous year, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
As of Sept. 6, the average cost of a gallon of home heating oil was $4.73, about 10 percent higher than last winter, according to state Department of Energy Resources data.
Electricity rates are also set to rise this winter as well, and National Grid told state officials this week that they are seeking a 64 percent rate hike in the typical monthly bill starting in November, due largely to spiking prices for the natural gas that fuels many New England power plants.
One top official in the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said at a meeting this week that the Baker administration was working on an energy plan for the winter, State House News reported.
“This winter will be, at best, a very high-cost energy winter” and state officials have been “working with our federal partners in developing a plan for New England’s winter,” Judy Chang said, according to the news service.