The Georgia Energy Report was released last month by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, a state agency that distributes grants and loans for conservation programs and the construction of water and sewer facilities.
Personal use of gasoline, electricity and other forms of energy peaked in 1996 at 369 million British thermal units and has fallen to 305 million Btus according to the latest federal figures cited in the report.
“The decrease in per capita energy consumption is the result of a number of important factors, including the rising cost of energy, efficiency gains from technology, behavior modifications thanks to increased awareness of sustainability issues, and the recession that started in 2008,” the report’s authors wrote.
That decline in personal energy usage resulted in a 16 percent improvement in what the report calls Georgia’s “economic energy intensity” or the number of Btus required to produce a dollar of economic output.
The Environmental Finance Authority credits some of the energy conservation to federal stimulus funds it used to retrofit government buildings and to provide insulation for low-income homes. The use of state funds to retrofit more government buildings had just begun during the two-year period of the report but is expected to be rolled out in the fiscal year that began last week.
Georgia Power Company, the state’s largest electricity supplier, acknowledges that many factors led to decreased individual consumption, including weather patterns. Company spokesman John Kraft said the utility played a role, too.
“At Georgia Power, we place a focus on helping our customers use energy more efficiently and save money through a variety of energy-efficiency programs including online programs such as energy audits and My Power Usage, the Refrigerator Recycling program and various rebates and incentives available to both homeowners and businesses,” he said.
However, environmentalists have a different view. For instance, Steven Smith, executive director of the Tennessee-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said new building codes, the economy and more efficient appliances were major factors in consumption reductions.
“You can’t really attribute a lot of things in the report to what Georgia Power was doing,” he said.
John Sibley, a senior fellow at the Atlanta-based Southface advocacy said much of the impact was driven by market forces.
“In accounting for the decline in energy use, it is hard to separate the impact of the economy from the impact of conservation measures, but it is clear that the movement toward greater efficiency in the use of energy is having an impact,” he said. “At one time it was believed that per capita energy use would increase as people acquired more and more electronic devices, but a recent study (don’t have it at hand) shows the number of devices growing by 30 percent over several years while the total electric consumption by electronic devices declined.”
The report noted many changes on the horizon likely to accelerate the decline in personal energy use, such as Atlanta becoming the U.S. city with the most electric-car purchases, a growing number of solar-generation installations and tougher regulatory requirements on Georgia Power to step up its programs to encourage conservation.