Dec 5, 2008

Everyone cutting power and WSJ thinks 'Something weird is going on'

If we use less energy, it's reported as bad news ?
The Wall Street Journal-  Industry concerned drop goes beyond downshift in the nation's economy 
An unexpected drop in U.S. electricity consumption has utility companies worried that the trend isn't a byproduct of the economic downturn and could reflect a permanent shift in consumption that will require sweeping change in their industry.
Numbers trickling in from several large utilities show shrinking power use by households and businesses in pockets across the country. Utilities long have counted on sales growth of 1 percent to 2 percent annually in the U.S., and they created complex operating and expansion plans to meet the needs of a growing population.
The data are early and incomplete, but if the trend persists, it could ripple through companies' earnings and compel major changes in the way utilities run their businesses. Utilities are expected to invest $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion by 2030 to modernize their electric systems and meet future needs, according to an industry-funded study by the Brattle Group.
However, if electricity demand is flat or even declining, utilities must make significant adjustments to their investment plans or run the risk of building too much capacity. That could end up burdening customers and shareholders with needless expenses.
...Xcel Energy, says his company saw home-energy use drop 3 percent in the period from August through September, "the first time in 40 years I've seen a decline in sales" to homes.
Duke's third-quarter electricity sales were down 5.9 percent in the Midwest from the year earlier, including a 9 percent drop among residential customers. At its utilities operating in the Carolinas, sales were down 4.3 percent for the three-month period ending Sept. 30 from a year earlier.
American Electric Power Co., which owns utilities operating in 11 states, saw total electricity consumption drop 3.3 percent in the same period from the prior year. Among residential customers, the drop was 7.2 percent. However, milder weather played a role.
Some believe the drop heralds a broader change for the industry. Rogers of Duke Energy says that even in places "where prices were flat to declining," his company saw lower consumption. "Something fundamental is going on," he says.
Michael Morris, chief executive of AEP, one of the country's largest utilities, says he thinks the industry should be wary about breaking ground on expensive new projects. "The message is: Be cautious about what you build because you may not have the demand" to justify the expense, he says.