Utility industry executives told a Senate committee yesterday that demand for electricity is once again increasing, and that some regions of the country may face power shortages in the early 1990s unless regulatory obstacles to the construction of new power plants are removed.
"Unlike total energy consumption, electricity consumption has grown significantly since the oil embargo of 1973," said Sherwood H. Smith, chairman of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association.
"While total energy consumption declined one percent since that time, electricity consumption has grown 33 percent," and the trend is likely to continue, Smith told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Smith said in an interview that his industry would like to see the passage of the nuclear plant standardization bill.
The bill would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop an approval process for standard nuclear power plant designs.
Once a design is approved, another utility wanting to build the same plant would not have to go through the long NRC approval process.
Utility operators also support a bill now pending in the Senate that would consolidate the five member NRC board into one administrator similar to the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The utility industry is attempting to stir up public awareness for its future needs because of the lead time required to build new generating plants, and the need to invest now for generating capacity to meet the demands of the next decade.
For example, it has taken as long as 15 years for a nuclear power plant to be licensed, built and put into operation.
The lead time for a new coal-fired plant is eight years, analysts say.
Mark W. French, an energy economist with Wharton Econometrics Forecasting, said he expects U.S. electricity demand to increase by about 2.8 percent each year until 1994.
This yearly increase would follow Wharton's forecast for annual growth in gross national product.
In some regions, power plants currently under construction have insufficient capacity to meet the projected demand in the early 1990s, French said.
Because of the lead-time problem, he added, investments should be made now to avoid the costly use of oil-fired plants, which are cheaper to build but more expensive to operate than larger coal or nuclear plants.