New Chairwoman Discusses NEFI’s Evolution

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Peterson says top priority is a clean, affordable product

The heating oil industry serves millions of U.S. households with fuel and energy services, and New England Fuel Institute supports the industry with vital representation in Washington, D.C., as well as important services for NEFI members. Oil & Energy recently reached out to Sharon Peterson, the new Chair of NEFI’s Board of Directors, to discuss NEFI’s plans and priorities.

Oil & Energy: Please talk about NEFI’s priorities for 2015.

Sharon Peterson: The mission for my tenure as Chair of NEFI is to help the industry promote its viable, affordable and clean energy products. NEFI will promote policies that –

  • Improve the supply, quality, and cost of our product
  • Reduce the cost of doing business
  • Increase our market
  • Protect our consumers.

To do this, NEFI has engaged a new educational director, and we have strengthened our focus on legislative and regulatory efforts. We must also educate the consumer and the legislators. Through the Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA), I have helped to launch a national social media campaign “Fuel Matters,” which will provide information about our industry to a broad audience.

We are currently conducting our 2015 survey of members to determine the leading issues from their perspective. We continually research, monitor, and endorse or oppose pending or proposed legislation. The issues evolve quickly, so our constant watch is vital. This winter, for example, the LIHEAP funding bill included a proposal to use LIHEAP funds to subsidize fuel switching. NEFI led the industry in writing an opposition letter to the President, signed by 26 associations, that touts the benefits of oil heat for the environment and the consumer. The letter also points out that most dealers now offer biodiesel blends of up to 5 percent or higher, which produces less carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions than natural gas when blended with ultra-low sulfur heating oil and used with modern appliances. The letter also encourages fuel-neutral policies.

OE: What are some of the key issues that NEFI is working to address?

SP: Our key focus is to provide a viable, renewable, affordable product to our customers. Our product is not just a necessary part of the energy mix, but a vital, positive choice for energy and for the environment. Our product is reliable, clean, easy to distribute, available, and provided by local businesses. As we learned from a Brookhaven National Laboratory study (published in February 2013), when you compare natural gas and low sulfur heating oil blended with biodiesel over a full lifecycle analysis over 20 years, heating oil is better than natural gas from a global warming perspective.

Our key priorities are:

  1. The promotion of low-sulfur and Bioheat® fuel.
  2. Promoting a fair and equal policy for all energy sources, where markets, not government policies dictate the prices. (Government policies that advocate one fuel over another, such as proposals for expedited natural gas pipeline permitting, are not the purview of government.) The heating oil price is now competitive with natural gas in many areas, making this issue even more important.
  3. Promoting domestic production and independence of fuel production—the promotion of the Keystone XL pipeline and discussions about exporting crude oil.

OE: The heating oil industry has changed a lot in recent years. One change we’re seeing is more women, including yourself, in influential positions.

SP: When I began my tenure on the Board at the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association (then the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association) in 2001, I was the only woman on the board. Women are now taking more visible leadership positions throughout our industry.

For me, the change is not so much about women but about families in business. As the structure of our families change in this country, women and men are more able to take on various roles. For me, this takes on a special significance: I work with my parents and my brother at Apple Oil Company in West Haven, CT. With my husband (Howard Peterson, Owner of Peterson Oil Co. and Immediate Past Chairman of the NEFI Board), the Peterson Oil Service family includes the fourth generation, Kristen, and the prospective fifth generation, Addison, born in 2014.

The alliance with NEFI and our state associations has afforded both of our family businesses many benefits, but perhaps the highlight of my involvement with NEFI is a personal one: The day I met my husband, we both were volunteering in our associations. The best photo I have of the impact of NEFI on my life hangs over the mantle of our sitting room: It is a picture of my husband and me, walking up the Lawn Garden at Tower Hill Botanic Garden after exchanging our wedding vows.

OE: NEFI streamlined the organization several years ago, and there have been more changes in recent months. Please talk about NEFI’s new administrative structure.

SP: With the onset of 2015, NEFI is taking further steps to enhance its public policy mission and to build upon its educational services and member services. We begin the year strengthening, enlarging, and specializing our staff in order to better serve our industry.

Our legislative team consists of Michael Trunzo, Jim Collura and Mark Morgan. Michael serves as NEFI’s Director of Public Policy and Industry Relations and is the external face of NEFI, focusing his role on leading NEFI’s policy development and as liaison to the New England state associations and all allied regional and national associations and the media.

Michael continues to work closely with Jim Collura, Vice President of Legislative Affairs, and Mark Morgan, Regulatory Counsel, keeping the public policy team intact and ready to serve NEFI members 24/7/365 for their legislative and business compliance needs.

Our Administrative Team consists of Martha Leshine, Christine Vieira-Trant, Donna Carcerano and Julie Gill. NEFI hired Leshine as Chief Operating Officer (COO) to manage the day-to-day administration and operations of the association as well as to coordinate the NEFI Energy Expo and NEFI Visions Conference. Ms. Leshine of Metairie, Louisiana, worked with NEFI during the 2014 Visions Conference and has been serving as NEFI Expo Coordinator until her recent appointment. She has a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA).

Christine Vieira-Trant, as Member Services Administrator, will continue working with all NEFI members on association services, dues collections, legislative action donations, education programs, and more.

Donna Carcerano also continues in her role as Benefits Administrator, serving NEFI members in the affinity areas for health, dental, life coverage, as well as the drug testing program and employee assistance program. Julie Gill provides outside accounting services.

Our Education Team features Sean Cota as Director of Education and the Education Foundation (EFI). He is developing curriculum for management and administrative training as well as regulatory compliance education for home heating companies.

OE: Please talk about NEFI’s expanded array of member benefits.

SP: As NEFI focuses on its core mission of legislative and regulatory services, we are also enhancing our member services and education programs.

Foley Services, in addition to our drug-testing program, will be offering new services, such as background checks for new hires. Through GBAC, we offer members access to—and potential savings from—a health and benefits exchange. The Powderhorn Agency provides the NEFI ProGuard Program for tank insurance and home warranty products.

OE: Are you excited about the 2015 NEFI Energy Expo?

SP: I am! NEFI brings the Expo to Worcester, Mass., this June 10-11. This successful new venue is a tribute to Worcester’s growth as a meeting center for regional family-oriented business groups. Worcester is easy to get to, and offers more than adequate exhibition space, meeting space, hotel space, and social venues for businesses like ours. The Worcester business community is family business oriented, and has welcomed NEFI, appreciated our business, and embraced NEFI’s members as they visit. Our customers will benefit, as we draw demonstrations of the best, cleanest and most efficient ways to heat our homes and businesses. Our lead sponsor, the National Biodiesel Board, offers new BioHeat fuel that is the only renewable fuel with realistic and reliable distribution to all homeowners in the New England region at an affordable price.

We look forward to seeing you at the Expo! I am honored to serve as your Chair and to be working with such a dedicated and experienced team.

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