Environment Forum

How the recession reshaped U.S. electricity production

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Electricity generation in the United States fell 4.1 percent in 2009, the biggest drop in 60 years, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The survey offers a snapshot of the impact the recession had on energy markets and shifts in the power supply as coal costs rose and natural gas prices plummeted. Industrial demand for electricity, for instance, dropped by 9.1 percent in 2009 to the lowest level in 22 years.

Expectations that Congress would pass legislation to impose a cap on greenhouse gas emissions may have also encouraged a move away from carbon-intensive electricity production, the report stated.

Electricity produced from coal-fired power plants fell by 11.6 percent in 2009 from the previous year while generation from natural gas increased by 4.3 percent, according to the report.

“In 2009, annual average natural gas wellhead prices reached their lowest level in seven years,” the report said. “Increased supply due to the availability of shale gas, coupled with mild winter temperatures and higher production, and storage levels, and significant expansions of pipelines capacity also worked to put downward pressure on natural gas prices.”

Paper or plastic? Oh, and 25 cents please!

California, always seeking to be a trendsetter on environmental policy, is weighing a proposal to charge 25 cents for every paper or plastic bag distributed at grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores. The money raised would go into a state fund used to clean up trash and prevent litter related to what the bill calls “single-use” bags.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, says 25 cents a bag is high enough to have a real impact on consumer behavior. The fee would be waived for some low-income Californians.

The idea, of course, is to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags to the supermarket. Brownley argues that a similar program in Ireland has been a success, reducing plastic bag litter by more than 90 percent.

Audubon employees dig deep for the cause

You won’t see this on Wall Street folks.

Times are tough for U.S. non-profit organizations, so tough that some employees at one are donating their own money to help stave off layoffs and keep their projects going.

Employees at the National Audubon Society, an environmental group dedicated to habitat conservation, have pledged about $800,000 through voluntary payroll deductions in an internal donation drive to help see it through the recession. You can see my report here.

Conservation groups are often staffed by people who are passionate about their cause and many are facing tough times as the recession bites.

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