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Power Use Mirrors Economy’s Ups And Downs

For a quarter-century, America’s electricity consumption climbed steadily, making it fairly easy to plan for power needs 10, 20, or even 30 years down the road. That changed in December 2007 with the first signs of a recession.

As the economy slowed, electricity sales dropped 0.8 percent in 2008 and 4.2 percent in 2009—the greatest single decline in six decades. Commercial and industrial use was the hardest hit.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), net power generation nationwide in 2009 sank below 2004 levels. Electric co-ops primarily serve residential members, so the downward trend wasn’t as severe, but it was still apparent.

Because of the recession, “forecasts of future demand have resulted in greater uncertainty for both short- and long-term planning,” says a 2010 report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, an organization charged with overseeing reliability of the nation’s power grid.

Further illustrating uncertainty, EIA released two different forecasts for the next 25 years hinging on the nation’s economic growth—predictions that don’t take into account the cost of impending federal regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emitted from power plants.

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