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By Catharine Richert July 7, 2009

Obama says that Californians use 40 percent less energy than most

President Barack Obama says California is a role model for energy conservation. 

In a June 29, 2009, speech to promote new light bulb efficiency standards, Obama said energy conservation will produce big results in the future, and cited California as an example.
"In the late 1970s, the state of California enacted tougher energy-efficiency policies. Over the next three decades, those policies helped create almost 1.5 million jobs. And today, Californians consume 40 percent less energy per person than the national average — which, over time, has prevented the need to build at least 24 new power plants."
That paragraph is chock-full of claims to check, but for now, we're going to focus on the key point of Obama's statement: that because of long-standing energy efficiency standards, "Californians consume 40 percent less energy per person than the national average."
The White House provided us with a 2008 report written by David Roland-Holst at the University of California-Berkeley to back up Obama's claim. It said that Californians' electricity consumption is 40 percent below the national average. Had Obama specified electricity, he would have been correct. California's low electricity consumption is widely known. More than three decades ago, the state adopted building and appliance efficiency standards, and it required that electricity profits be separate from the amount of energy sold. This prompted utilities to offer incentives to consumers who save energy. 
Indeed, since the mid 70s, the amount of electricity used per person has grown by almost 50 percent in the rest of the country while California’s numbers remained relatively flat. For example, in 2006, electricity use in the entire country hovered around 12,000 kilowatt hours per person, while California's was approximately 7,000 kilowatt hours, according to a 2007 report by the the California Energy Commission, a branch of the state government. That's about 40 percent less than the national average.
But Obama said "energy," which includes other sources in addition to electricity, so that is what we are checking.

Our first stop was the Energy Information Agency, where we found that overall energy consumption per person in California is quite low. In 2006, individuals there used about 232 million Btu of energy, which includes natural gas, petroleum and coal.  The state's level was about 30 percent less than the national average of 333 Btu, which ranked the state 47th in the nation., a database that compares states by demographics and economics, shows a similar pattern based on statistics from 2001; then, California ranked 46th in per capita energy consumption.
So Obama is correct with his underlying point that California's energy efficiency measures have reduced consumption dramatically, but he is off target with his statistic. It's actually 30 percent lower, not 40 percent as he said. We rate his claim Mostly True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

The White House, the President's remarks on energy , accessed July 6, 2009

Energy Efficiency, Innovation, and Job Creation in California , by David Roland-Holst, accessed July 6, 2009

The New York Times, Dechiphering California's Efficiency Success , by Kate Galbraith, April 14, 2009

The Energy Information Administration, California profile , accessed July 6, 2009

California Energy Commission, 2007 Integrated Energy Policy Report , accessed July 6, 2009

The Energy Information Administration, Energy Consumption by Source and Total Consumption per Capita, Ranked by State, 2006 , accessed July 6, 2009, Total Energy Consumption (per capita) by state , accessed July 6, 2009

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Obama says that Californians use 40 percent less energy than most

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