Electricity production is the single largest source of air pollution in the United States, contributing greatly to acid rain, smog, global warming, and public health problems. Natural gas, which is piped directly into homes and businesses and also used as a fuel source by electric power plants, is the cleanest-burning of the fossil fuels (oil and coal are the dirtier members of this group), but its production and consumption nevertheless contribute to pollution. Residential consumption of electricity in the San Francisco Bay Area increased by nearly 10 percent between 1992 and 1997; natural gas consumption remained steady during that same period. The good news is that between January and June 2001, the Bay Area joined the rest of California in reducing electricity use significantly in response to the state's energy crisis.
NRDC researchers examined California Energy Commission data on residential consumption of electricity and natural gas from 1992 to 1997. Annual residential electricity use in the Bay Area increased by 9.5 percent over that period, an average of about 1.6 percent per year. The Bay Area increase is not accounted for by population increases alone, as electricity use increased 4.6 percent per household. The many new electronic devices on the market and their growing use also play a large part in the increase.
Between January and June 2001 significant reductions in electricity use occurred in the Bay Area, according to data released by the California Energy Commission in July 2001. In June alone, almost 30 percent of households served by PG&E cut their consumption by at least 20 percent, compared with June 2000, and statewide consumption dropped by 8 percent.
Total residential natural gas use in the Bay Area remained largely constant over the period 1992 to 1997, increasing 0.4 percent. Yearly fluctuations within the period studied were due primarily to weather. Significantly, natural gas use per household actually went down by about 8 percent, thanks in part to improved building standards.