California Average Electricity Use Per Person - August 2008
Flipping the Switch
We’re lucky that here in California we have utilities that are serious about helping us be energy efficient. For the past 30-years per capita energy use in California has remained relatively constant. But this has not been the case in the rest of the country. In that same 30 years per capita energy use in the U.S. has increased by almost 40%. Half of that energy is being produced by coal-burning power plants that also contribute to acid rain and respiratory illnesses such as asthma.  

And even though California’s per person energy use is fairly level our population is growing. This means that overall our energy use is rising, putting pressure on existing energy supplies. During hot summer months our demand sometimes threatens to exceed our capacity. There are several days each summer when utilities have to ask businesses to shut down portions of their operations in order to avoid rolling blackouts throughout the state.

There’s another reason we can’t pat ourselves on the back just yet. While we’re doing better than the rest of the U.S., Californians still use 2x as much energy as the average European. Meanwhile surveys show Europeans have a better quality of life. Even if this isn’t directly related to their environmental practices, their efficient resource use paired with their high standard of living shows you really can do more with less. Living sustainably doesn’t mean sacrificing.
There are all sorts of ways for us to use energy more efficiently – ranging from actions as simple as turning out unneeded lights, to practical investments like replacing old refrigeration systems.
Rising Energy Prices
Your monthly energy bill may be increasingly tough to stomach. Utility bills have increased nearly 30% in the past five years due to rising fuel costs. Now utilities across the U.S. are raising power prices as much as 29% in response to the continuing increases in fuel prices, and also because they need to build new plants and upgrade the aging power grid. Even more dramatic price increases are anticipated in coming years. The price of coal has doubled in the last year, and natural gas prices are up nearly 50%. The cost to build new power plants has also doubled since 2000.

With coal and natural gas prices on the rise it doesn’t seem to make sense to keep investing in traditional energy sources. Wouldn’t you rather that your money go towards building renewable energy sources? This option has a number of advantages. First off, once the initial investment in a renewable energy system is paid off, money you would have spent on energy becomes money in the bank. Meanwhile nonrenewable energy sources just keep sucking up money indefinitely. Beyond the financial argument, having our own renewable energy sources also increases our energy independence and ensures stable energy supplies in the future.  
Efficiency and Renewable Energy
The ultimate goal is to have zero carbon energy homes and businesses. This means renovating and constructing buildings to be as energy efficient as possible and then installing renewable energy systems that produce as much or more energy than the buildings need. In general our utilities need to get more of their energy from renewable sources. This way residential and business customers could just request “green” energy rather than having to install a private system. Some utilities already allow you do this, and PG&E is moving in this direction.

California established a Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2002, and Governor Schwarzenegger accelerated it in 2006. The RPS program requires that California’s three largest utilities get at least 20% of their energy from renewable sources by the end of 2010 and 33% by the end of 2020. PG&E currently gets about 13% of their energy from renewable sources and says they are on track to meet the Renewable Portfolio Standard. We need to encourage them to go beyond this goal and produce the majority of their energy from renewable sources.
Learn More
To learn more about what you can do Click Here.
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