Demand for electricity sputters; bills may fall

In this April 30, 2009 photo, a carbon dioxide capture system is seen under construction at American Electric Power's Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, W.Va. Consumers and businesses may finally be seeing some relief from rising utility bills, thanks to the biggest decline in U.S. electricity demand in decades. Prices on wholesale markets are expected to decline for the rest of 2009, according to the Energy Information Agency. While rates will probably begin edging up again in 2010, it will likely be less than half the 6.2 percent jump recorded last year. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

In this April 30, 2009 photo, a carbon dioxide capture system is seen under construction at American Electric Power's Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, W.Va. Consumers and businesses may finally be seeing some relief from rising utility bills, thanks to the biggest decline in U.S. electricity demand in decades. Prices on wholesale markets are expected to decline for the rest of 2009, according to the Energy Information Agency. While rates will probably begin edging up again in 2010, it will likely be less than half the 6.2 percent jump recorded last year. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Consumers and businesses may finally be seeing some relief from rising utility bills, thanks to the biggest decline in U.S. electricity demand in decades.

Prices on wholesale markets are expected to decline for the rest of 2009, according to the Energy Information Agency. While rates will probably begin edging up again in 2010, it will likely be less than half the 6.2 percent jump recorded last year.

For decades as Americans bought more electronics, more appliances, air conditioners and other gizmos, energy demand has only moved in one direction and prices have followed suit.

The decline in power usage over the past year is a rarity and also an indication of how badly the recession has jolted the economy and changed the way Americans spend.

The shift began last year, when power consumption fell 1.6 percent. Government forecasters see consumption falling another 2.7 percent this year. That would mark the first time since 1949 that the nation has seen energy demand fall in consecutive years.

Given the broad apprehension over the economy, any money consumers can keep in their pockets may help.

"You might see a decrease in your bill or, at the very least, less of an increase. And these days that's not bad," said Charlie Acquard, executive director of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates.

Power consumption by the industrial and manufacturing companies that make everything from cars to cotton swabs has fallen faster than anywhere else - 10 percent this year by government estimates. Industrial consumption fell about 20 percent in parts of the Midwest, Carolinas and the South during the second quarter, utilities say.

The recession has suppressed demand for coal, natural gas and oil. This has sent a ripple through wholesale electric markets, where fossil fuels are turned into energy.

In the PJM wholesale market that coordinates prices in all or parts of 13 states in the eastern half of the country, prices are down about 40 percent from a year ago.

The weather is helping as well. After a very mild summer in which it made more sense to open the windows of your home rather than crank up the air conditioning, most meteorologistsx see a relatively warm winter on the way.

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