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PER-CAPITA ENERGY USE DROPPING

Report also has bad news for city

Monday, 24 April 2000
By Mark Muro
Arizona Daily Star


A new report on energy consumption in Tucson contains good news and bad.

The good news is that Tucson used almost 9 percent less energy per capita in 1998 than in 1992, according to an updated assessment of energy consumption trends by the Tucson-Pima County Metropolitan Energy Commission.

This efficiency kept 4 million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere and puts Tucson ahead of the rest of Arizona, where consumption remained largely flat. Moreover, the saving occurred at a time the metro area's population here grew by 17 percent, and was led by the booming residential and commercial building sectors, which saved the economy almost $150 million in 1998 through better construction methods, conservation retrofitting and other measures.

Energy consciousness

"Compared to other communities Tucson is really acting on its consciousness of energy issues, especially in the home building area," says consulting economist and energy commission member Bob Cook. "Homeowners and business people are saving themselves millions of dollars."

Other aspects of the report are less positive, however. Overall, expenditures on energy added up to $1.5 billion in 1998 - good for 10 percent of the entire metro economy in the 1990s. And 70 percent of that $1.5 billion continues to leave the Tucson metro area in the form of energy payments to distant producers of gas, oil and electricity. Indeed, the proliferation of fuel-guzzling trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles here ensured that petroleum's share of Tucson's energy consumption increased to 51 percent, a new high.

That suggests to Cook and others the need for more conservation among drivers and the business sector as well. "Our reductions in the building area show we can reduce our consumption, and that argues we should try to make more progress," Cook says.

Cook adds that the benefits to Tucson businesses are far from abstract. "The less businesses spend on energy the more they can invest in other things, like technology upgrades or what have you," Cook says.

There is another way of looking at energy savings, moreover, according to Cook and the new report's author, Helmut Frank, an emeritus economcs professor at the University of Arizona. They contend wringing savings from high local energy expenditures amounts to a smart economic development agenda.

"A modest 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency would return $200 million every year to the economy," explains Cook, who adds that the work of locating those savings would generate more economic activity.

"The energy services sector would grow if we made this effort," says Frank. He looks forward to the creation of hundreds of new jobs in the energy services sector: jobs for engineers, energy consultants, producers of energy-efficient windows or solar energy components.

Cook concludes: "Saving energy is good business for Tucson."

The "Tucson-Pima Energy Assessment Update" is posted at the Tucson-Pima County Metropolitan Energy Commission's Web site (www.tucsonmec.org).