W&J College index details U.S. energy consumption

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Since the administration of President Harry Truman, the nation's dependence on foreign sources of energy has increased by 22 percent.

That fact is one of many insights into the country's energy consumption provided by the Washington & Jefferson College Energy Index, which uses an algorithm to determine how much of our energy comes from domestic sources.

"This is the first time that anybody has developed a public benchmark for evaluation of energy independence and done it a way that the public understands," said Diana Stares, director of the Center for Energy Policy & Management at Washington & Jefferson College, which will oversee the project.

The index, created by assistant professors of economics Leslie and Robert Dunn, uses national data on energy consumption, types of fuel, geography and history to determine the annual percentage of energy that is both consumed and produced in the United States.

"If the index were to reach 100, all fossil fuels plus renewable and nuclear energies would come from domestic sources," Mrs. Dunn said. "We wanted the index to be on a range that made sense where the number had a clear interpretation."

On the opposite end of the scale, zero percent means that all the country's consumed energy comes from foreign sources.

The index, which was unveiled last Monday at a summit honoring the opening of the Center for Energy Policy & Management, uses data released every fall in the Annual Energy Review by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The data can also be broken down into regions representing the Northeast, South, Midwest and West, showing the percentage of energy both consumed and produced by those regions.

The Dunns said the project was intended to quantify our energy independence -- a topic that is brought up by administration after administration, but rarely put in laymen's terms.

Data derived from the index show that U.S. energy independence has decreased with each administration since Truman, with the exception of two upticks. More than 83 percent of energy came from domestic sources under President Ronald Reagan's administration compared to just less than 78 percent under President Jimmy Carter's before him. Initial data also show that under the Obama administration the country's reliance on domestic energy (73.16 percent) has increased more than 3 percent since George W. Bush's time as president.

Officials at Washington & Jefferson say in the future the index can be used to determine how world events, energy supply and changes in consumer activity affect energy independence.

Ms. Stares said she hopes it will make the college a go-to source for data on the sources of our energy, comparable to the consumer price index's position as an indicator on economic health.

"The beauty of this particular index is that it is not biased in any way," she said. "We're just processing the information and trying to understand what's going on. That neutrality is crucial to the value of this index."

nation - region - environment

Taryn Luna: 412-263-1985 or tluna@post-gazette.com. First Published April 30, 2012 12:00 AM


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