Boston Bioheat Dealer Recounts Epic Winter

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Record snow and cold presented serious challenges for delivery team

By Paul Nazzaro, President, Advanced Fuel Solutions

With historically low temperatures and oil prices, customers were requiring more frequent deliveries this winter—and with historically high snow accumulation, tanks had never been more difficult to fill.

As the President and Vice President, respectively, of MacFarlane Energy in Dedham, Mass., Scott MacFarlane Sr. and his son Scott Jr. aren’t typically out on the road filling tanks, but this was hardly a typical winter. “It was surreal,” MacFarlane Jr. said. “We were the last line of defense.”

MacFarlane’s fleet of 10 trucks delivers B5 Bioheat® fuel to some 5,000 customers in a 20-mile radius of Boston. The company upgraded its standard product two years ago to an ultra-low-sulfur diesel and biodiesel blend that already complies with the state’s 2018 sulfur mandates. They say rebranding themselves as a forward-thinking, environmentally minded company has propelled their second-generation family business forward in an increasingly competitive local market—where, this season, dealers have been competing as much with the weather as they have among themselves.

Boston was hit with a record 110 inches of snow this winter, nearly eight feet of which fell during an unrelenting 30-day stretch in January and February. Add to that this season’s low oil prices and the fact that Boston failed to reach 40 degrees from January 20 through March 3—a record streak of 43 consecutive days—and you can see why, in the words of MacFarlane Jr., “February was a blur.”

“I just remember being in the truck with my father at 1:00 a.m. in Boston. Beacon Street was down from four lanes plus a parking lane to one lane, and the snow banks were higher than the hood of the truck. I had never seen anything like it.”

No one had. Cars were buried, roofs were caved in, schools and businesses were closed, and portions of the subway system were shut down for the better part of a month. On some days, the only vehicles on the roads were plows, emergency personnel, and oil delivery trucks.

“That’s the thing about oil dealers,” MacFarlane Jr. said. “Nothing stops us.”

The company added a passenger to each truck to help drivers dig out paths and pull hoses during deliveries. In some cases, they needed axes and sledgehammers to break through the ice. They encouraged customers to dig out their own fill pipes by announcing a photo contest, the winner of which received floor seats to a Celtics game. Everyone worked overtime. While the added manpower and hours kept deliveries on track, “the payroll went through the roof,” MacFarlane Jr. said.

The good news was that MacFarlane’s cleaner burning Bioheat kept service calls at a minimum, enabling service technicians to lend a hand with deliveries and preventing emergencies related to equipment failure. Through it all, they delivered some five million gallons of fuel.

“We had no problems [with Bioheat] at all,” MacFarlane Jr. said. “In fact, we’ve found in general that we have less call-backs and tune-ups are much cleaner with the low-sulfur bio blend.”

The company hopes to offer higher blends of Bioheat as those blends become available at the rack, he said. McFarlane actively markets the product in their newsletter, in statement stuffers, and by encouraging their service technicians to discuss its benefits with customers.

While he hopes the “green and clean” aspects will prevent more natural gas conversions in the future, MacFarlane Jr. said an equally powerful preventative measure is “being out in a blizzard at 1:00 a.m.” to keep a customer warm.

“I hope our customers saw how hard we worked this winter,” he said. “I think they did. Hopefully they’ll remember that in years to come.”

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