Charlottesville gas prices jump 16 cents over holiday weekend - The Daily Progress: News

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Charlottesville gas prices jump 16 cents over holiday weekend

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Posted: Monday, February 18, 2013 11:05 pm | Updated: 10:45 am, Tue Feb 19, 2013.

Mark Jenkins commutes five days a week from his home just east of Tappahannock to St. Matthias' Episcopal Church in Midlothian, and back — a little more than 100 miles round trip. That's about 4 gallons of regular gas in the 2000 Mustang he drives.

The rising price of gas cuts into his lifestyle, he said.

On Monday, AAA Mid-Atlantic reported that the average Virginia price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.61.

For Jenkins, that's $14.44 a day, $72.20 a week, $3,610 a year.

Lately, the cost of everyone's automobile commute has been on the rise. Gas prices in Virginia have risen 35 cents per gallon in the past 30 days, AAA said. From Friday to Monday, the cost shot up 11 cents.

Charlottesville-area gas prices on Monday were at $3.60, up 16 cents from Friday, which was the sharpest increase out of four areas across the state monitored by AAA. Virginia gas prices jumped 11 cents over the weekend.

“Average prices in Charlottesville are just a penny shy from the state average,” AAA's Windy A. VanCuren said. “You all seem to be holding pretty true to the Virginia average right now.”

Gas was $3.19 last month in the Charlottesville area and $3.47 last year, according to AAA.

Jenkins, a Franciscan friar, is parish administrator at the Episcopal church. He is restoring Woodlawn, a 1,500-square-foot home built in the late 1700s, and because gas costs so much, some restoration projects are on hold, he said.

Just two weeks ago, VanCuren, commenting about the dramatic increase in prices, said AAA doesn't think the cost will rise above last year's highest price. The cost Monday was 7 cents a gallon above the price the same day a year ago. Is VanCuren sticking with that analysis?

"We still do not expect the average price for 2013 to be higher than the average 2012 price," she said Monday.

The average per-gallon price for all of last year in Virginia was $3.43. The highest one-month average was $3.87 in April.

"We anticipate the price will peak again in April," VanCuren said, "and that the peak will be lower this year." She said the price would likely top out at $3.60-$3.75.

“There is no perfect crystal ball,” VanCuren said, but “Four dollars [per gallon] does not seem like it’s going to happen.”

George E. Hoffer, a transportation economist at the University of Richmond, said the annual price run-up is starting earlier each year. Instead of starting in March, he said, the biggest price increases have been hitting consumers in February.

"And if the past is prologue to the future," Hoffer said, "the price run-up will end sooner, too." Instead of lasting into the summer, he said, it will likely taper off in May.

Hoffer said that with no natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina pushing crude oil's price higher, and with no strife shutting down oil pipelines in the Middle East, there are no fundamental pressures on oil supply.

Rather, he said, the price has been pushed up by speculators buying oil and withholding it from the market — and doing so at the same time oil companies routinely close refineries for seasonal maintenance.

Hoffer said speculators are making their buys earlier each year, hoping to get in at the right time, and selling earlier, too.

AAA cited the analysis of Tom Kloza at Oil Price Information Services, who agreed with Hoffer's observation that speculators are driving the rise in the price of crude oil — and subsequently gas.

"We've seen about $11 billion of speculative money come in on the long side of gas futures," he said. "Each of the last three weeks we've seen a record net long position being taken."

For Jenkins, the price change isn't measured by billions of dollars, but he feels the impact of a 35-cent increase in a month.

"I keep the thermostat down," he said, "and I heat with wood. … I try not to make any extra trips, but if I'm going to live where I want to live, and keep my job, I have to make the commute."

Usually he drives more than an hour each way, he said.

"I don't mind the drive," he said. "It gives me time to center myself before I start my work day, and time to wind down on the way home."

Daily Progress staff writer Nate Delesline III contributed to this story.

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