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Steve Chiotakis: Oil isn't the only energy market to see demand fall off a cliff. Electric utilities are reporting an unprecedented drop in power use. And it's not just the economy that's to blame. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


Sam Eaton: Utilities worry that the recent drop in electricity use appears to be far deeper than any previous dips related to the economy. That means Americans may finally be heeding the calls to conserve. And that has many utilities wondering if today's costly investments to boost supply will pay off, even if the economy recovers.

Nathanael Greene with the Natural Resources Defense Council says yes, as long as those investments are for renewable energy.

Nathanael Greene: A coal plant is big and expensive. It takes a long time to build and then it's a big block of power that you've got to sell. Renewables are smaller, they're scaleable, and they're much cheaper to roll out quickly.

Greene says the economic downturn could be a boon for small-scale renewable energy projects. But it could also boost conservation efforts. Under existing laws, the more electricity utilities sell, the more they profit.

But with sales and profits dropping, regulators in more than a dozen states are considering measures to pay utilities for energy saved rather than sold.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

Follow Sam Eaton at @eatonsam