Thursday, October 06, 2005

With tight supplies, focus turns to conservation

It's "That's 70's Show" time in the energy industry:

Fuel prices stuck at record highs have forced government officials to broach topics many have avoided for years: energy efficiency and conservation.

The very words used to conjure images of Jimmy Carter bundled in a sweater, imploring his oil-shocked nation to use less. Mindful of the one-term president's fate, politicians have focused ever since on increasing America's supply of energy, not cutting its use.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita changed that, at least temporarily. With gasoline staying near $3 per gallon and natural gas prices expected to rise more than 70 percent this month, even President Bush has begun touting conservation and efficiency -- approaches his administration once treated with skepticism.

Estimates of how much electricity and fuel America can save vary, and many energy economists warn against putting too much faith in the forecasts.

Even those who preach efficiency's virtues doubt it can solve America's long-term energy problems alone. But it could be a key part of the solution, keeping energy demand from exploding while the country finds new sources of power or fuel.