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Oil use cuts lead US in energy savings

Not only has the Bay State fared better in the current recession than other parts of the nation, but it records a cutback in energy use that ranks among the highest anywhere.

Acutely sensitive to world oil prices -- 85 percent of Massachusetts' energy comes from petroleum -- investment in energy efficiency has made obvious economic sense to the state.

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Since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the nation has increased its energy use while the Bay State reduced energy consumption by over 1 percent a year. With 2 .6 percent of the US population, the state now accounts for only 1.9 percent of US energy use.

"I haven't heard a Massachusetts businessman grouse about energy costs in five years," says First National Bank economist James Howell. "Energy is only 2 to 3 percent of their operating costs."

In all of New England, he adds, energy use has declined 30 percent in the last five years. Availability, more than cost, now concerns the business community.

The energy picture can only get better for the state. Electricity demand projections have dropped drastically to 2 percent a year from 7 or 8 percent just a decade ago. The nation's largest oil-to-coal conversion took place at Brayton Point in 1978. Trash-to-energy plants are becoming more popular, and numerous solar, biomass, and conservation projects are promoted by local utilities. The first federal go-ahead for building a nuclear plant since the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island is expected to be handed to Boston Edison this summer.

And if President Reagan decontrols natural gas prices sooner than the scheduled 1985 dates, it will be barely felt in Massachusetts, which uses one-third the nati onal average in gas."

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