January 15, 1981
HARD COAL FOR HOMES IS HARD TO GET
By WILLIAM E. GEIST
Tens of thousands of residents in the New York metropolitan area want coal for home heating and cannot get it. Coal dealers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut report that residential customers are offering more than their asking prices - already inflated because of demand - and one said he was being offered $50 bribes to move customers up on his waiting list. The dealers say many customers are paying for more coal and better grades of it than they are actually receiving.
''People are literally begging me for coal,'' said a spokesman for the Coalrite Corporation on Long Island, the area with the most severe shortages. ''I post a sign that the coal yard will be open for a couple of hours, and 30 people line up for small rations, just a few days' supply, which is all I can give them. I have to actually give out numbers.''
''Some who come here,'' he said, ''are riding the coal circuit, picking up small two- or three-day supplies in Suffolk County, Brooklyn and Connecticut.'' To avoid having customers call him at home, the Coalrite spokesman asked that his name not be used.
The shortage does not affect large industrial users of coal, such as Consolidated Edison, according to Frank Mohney, president of the Pennsylvania Coal Mining Association, because they use bituminous, or soft, coal rather than the anthracite, or hard, coal burned in homeheating units.
Anthracite, a narrow segment of coal mining output, is estimated by industry officials to amount to about one-half of 1 percent of total coal production in this country. Figures for 1979, the latest available, show that 825 million tons of soft coal and 4.8 million tons of anthracite were produced in the United States.
The situation is not an emergency for most of the peo-ple besieging coal companies for orders. Social service agencies throughout the New York area say there are few, if any, people without heat in their homes because of the coal shortage.
Coal dealers said nearly all the callers seeking coal were homeowners who had bought coal-burning stoves in recent months and still have their old oil-burning units, which they can resume using. To them, the coal shortage is not a matter of life and death, but of frustration and betrayal.
''I am patriotic,'' said Norman Barlow of Wassaic, N.Y., in Dutchess County. ''President Carter said for energy independence we should convert to abundant American coal. I spent $7,000 on a coal furnace for my house and $2,000 on a furnace for a tenant house. Now there's no coal.''
After spending $2,000 for a coal stove, Margaret Kriete of Rockville Centre, L.I., and her husband expected to cut their heating bill from $1,300 last year to $400 this year. ''But coal went from $78 per ton in September to $105 two months later,'' she said. ''Then we had to start buying it in little bags, which made the price about $180 per ton, and now we can't get it at all.''
Coal dealers throughout the New York area say that while they are getting more coal this year than last, customer demand has increased dramatically from last winter's levels because of the sudden popularity of coal stoves. A Shift From Wood to Coal
Albert Edwards, owner of Island Stove Works, a four-store chain on Long Island, said that three winters ago he sold mainly wood stoves and only one coal stove. Two winters ago, he said, he sold about four coal stoves, and last winter his coal-stove sales jumped to 1,400.
''The price of wood went way up,'' he said, ''and coal became the alternative to expensive oil.'' Coalrite buys its coal from the Bethlehem Mines Corporation of Bethlehem, Pa. ''We have doubled our supply of anthracite to the heating market in the past two years,'' a Bethlehem spokesman said, ''but there is still a shortage throughout the Northeast because of the tremendous increase in usage.''
He said it was not a simple matter to respond to the surge in demand for anthracite. Two years ago, he pointed out, Bethlehem opened a new mine in anticipation of increased demand, but after digging through 500 feet of rock its workers have only now reached the coal.
A spokesman for the Lehigh Valley Coal Sales Company of Pittston, Pa., another major supplier of anthracite to the New York area, said its mines were operating around the clock, seven days a week, in an attempt to catch up with demand. Demand Heavy on L.I.
''We have tripled our tonnage to Long Island,'' said William Mooney, a national sales director for Lehigh, adding that for reasons unknown to the industry, Long Island is an exceptionally strong market for home-heating coal.
''This demand came so suddenly that no one anticipated it,'' he said. ''It takes time to catch up. It takes three to six months to get permits for new mines. It can be two to five years before the equipment - the massive shovels and the rest - is ready.''
Another problem, he said, is that most anthracite is surface-mined and winter weather hampers production. Moreover, he said, only two of nine sizes of anthracite coal coming out of the Lehigh mines are the proper size for home-heating units.
The Weed and Duryea Company of New Canaan, Conn., is out of coal. ''Two years ago we were down to selling two 50-pound bags,'' said Peter Huidekoper, the owner. ''This year we've gone through 47 tons already. We see no end to it. It's cheaper than oil, and you don't have to go to the Middle East to get it.''
John Fairclough, the owner of the Fairclough Fuels Company in Paterson, N.J., said that he was selling heating oil for $1.11 a gallon and coal for $110 a ton, and that 200 gallons of oil were equivalent in heating capacity to one ton of coal.
''Coal is half the price of oil,'' he said. ''Why I have to beg, holler and scream to get coal from suppliers is no mystery to me.''