Gas prices to drop again

Could Kaua’i gas prices return to the magic $3 mark next week?

They were nearly there in Waimea earlier this week.

Not quite, but Kaua’i gasoline consumers could see the lowest gasoline prices in quite a while as soon as Monday, Oct. 24, as members of the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Wednesday lowered the maximum pre-tax wholesale price of gasoline by 12 cents.

The price of gasoline has plummeted 56 cents in the past two weeks.

The state gas-cap law, which went into effect Sept. 1, does not put a cap on how much retailers may charge.

Kaua’i consumers have apparently learned to play the waiting game, and purchase gasoline on the day prices go down, rather than filling up before.

This resulted in operators of some stations running out of gas Monday, as consumers lined up to pay less.

Sheilah Rego, who owned the Hanama’ulu Shell before turning it over to her daughter Dawn and holds lease options for the Lihu’e and Kalaheo Shell stations, confirmed that the Hanama’ulu and Lihu’e locations ran out of fuel Monday.

“The Hanama’ulu station ran out in the morning, and the Lihu’e was out of fuel for two hours that afternoon. Gas buyers held out. It might happen again if we have a sharp decrease,” she said.

Rego said she was surprised at the number of O’ahu stations that reportedly ran out of fuel, also earlier this week, as prices there fell as well.

The weekly maximum pre-tax wholesale price of a gallon of gasoline for the seven-day period from Monday, Oct. 24, to Sunday, Oct. 30, for Kaua’i, was set by PUC members at $2.23, down from $2.35 this week.

The rate set for O’ahu is 14 cents lower than Kaua’i. Next week, O’ahu motorists will likely pay about $2.87 for a gallon of unleaded gasoline.

To determine what drivers will likely pay at the pump on Kaua’i beginning next week, take that base price of $2.23, then add about 61 cents in taxes, and the total is $2.84. Add the dealer mark-up at the pump, which is not capped, and which on Kaua’i can be any where from 18 cents to 30 cents, and the price of a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline likely will be in the $3.05-plus range.

State Rep. Marcus Oshiro, D-Wahiawa, said future gasoline prices would likely remain stable, even in light of yet another hurricane threat.

“Hurricane Wilma is not expected to affect the oil refineries on the Gulf Coast, so we don’t anticipate that it will impact Hawai’i gas prices,” he said.

“The high cost of gas is due to the skyrocketing cost of crude oil and the impacts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, not the gas cap,” Oshiro said.

“We saw that prices on the Mainland during the hurricanes were reaching over $4 a gallon, and the federal government is investigating price-gouging. Without the gas cap, our prices would probably have been much higher.”

Jeff Guest, owner of the Princeville Chevron, said that, even with stabilized prices, volume is down overall, though he did see a slight rise recently that he attributed to higher tourism numbers.

Guest’s station was featured, dubiously, on a Pacific Business News segment of the KHON channel 2 news earlier this week, as being the place with the highest gas price in the state, exclusive of Hana, Maui, and Moloka’i and Lana’i.

Glenn Konishi, owner of Gary’s Chevron on Kuhio Highway in Lihu’e, said that as long as the wholesale prices did not fluctuate wildly from week to week, inventory-management would not be a huge issue.

The weekly cap established by PUC members sets the maximum amount officials at the oil companies can charge for wholesale gasoline.

The baseline price established by members of the state Legislature under the wholesale-price-cap law and used by PUC members is the weekly average of the daily spot price for Los Angeles, the U.S. Gulf Coast, and New York.

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