walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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US Electricity Use Falls as Economy Greens

Every week brings new evidence of the unexpected greening of America. According to the Wall Street Journal, electricity use is falling in America even as our use of gadgets is on the rise:

The Energy Information Administration is projecting that electricity use in the U.S. will rise an average of just 0.6% a year for industrial users and 0.7% for households through 2040.

That’s a far cry from the middle decades of the past century, when utilities could rely on electricity consumption growing by more than 8% a year. Even after the Arab oil embargo in 1973, the growth in electricity demand averaged 2% to 4% annually. But those days may be long gone.

Historically, economists saw electricity use as an accurate measure of growth, but now that everyday products are increasingly energy efficient and the manufacturing economy is streamlined, growth and electricity use have become decoupled. This is another sign that in our new information age growth is green. Declinists and pessimists, take note; growth in the American economy is less and less about producing widgets and more about style, design, services and ideas. It’s likely that the faster we grow the more rapidly the transition to a cleaner and greener economy will go.

Greens are unlikely to rejoice, however, as this trend spells doom for some of their treasured projects. In response to falling profits, electricity companies are balancing the books by cutting investment in low-emission options like nuclear power plants (which many greens will not mourn) and especially in renewable energy projects. Falling demand for electricity plus rising supplies of cheap and reliable domestic fuels like natural gas makes subsidies for green generation more expensive and less likely to succeed.

 

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