Whopper of the Week: Spencer Abraham

“Some experts calculate that the demands of the Internet already consume some 8-13 percent of electricity. If demand grows at just the same pace as during the last decade, we’ll need nearly 1,900 new plants by 2020–or more than 90 every year–just to keep pace.”

–Energy secretary Spencer Abraham, in a March 19 speech  to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In the past year and a half, I have been witness to an extraordinary event: an analysis based on demonstrably incorrect data and flawed logic has achieved the status of conventional wisdom, in spite of my and my colleagues’ best efforts to refute its assertions. The results continue to be cited by an unsuspecting press, and even by people who ought to know better [italics Chatterbox’s].


“In May 1999, Mark P. Mills published a report for the Greening Earth Society (summarized in an article in Forbes magazine) that attempted to calculate the ‘Internet related’ portion of electricity use. This report claimed that electricity use associated with the Internet totaled about 8 percent of all U.S. electricity use in 1998, that the entire ‘digital economy’ accounted for 13 percent, and that this sector would grow to consume half of all electricity in the next decade…..Mills significantly overestimated electricity use, in some cases by more than an order of magnitude….In June 2000, my colleagues and I completed our first comprehensive assessment of office equipment energy use since 1995 (Kawamoto et. al. 2000). This report includes electricity used by network equipment, and estimates total energy used by office and network equipment for residential, commercial, and industrial sectors….Our detailed calculations show that electricity used for all office, telecommunications, and network equipment (including electricity used to manufacture the equipment) is about 3% of total electricity use in the U.S.”


Rebuttal to Testimony on ‘Kyoto and the Internet: The Energy Implications of the Digital Economy,’ by Jonathan G. Koomey, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, prepared for the Energy department in August 2000.


“Energy spokesman Joe Davis explained that the secretary got his figures not from the Berkeley lab report, but from And, Davis said, the Berkeley report did not take into account the “massive network” of switches and routers that run 24/7 to power the Internet.

“Not so, says Jonathan G. Koomey, one of the Berkeley report’s authors, noting that the 8 to 13 percent figure comes from a 1999 study done for the Greening Earth Society, a group funded by coal-based utilities.”

Al Kamen, Washington Post, March 27


(Thanks to Maia Cowan.)


Got a whopper? Send it to To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguous lie paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.

Whopper Archive:

March 23, 2001: George W. Bush, Rep. Jennifer Dunn, and/or the Treasury Department

March 16, 2001: George W. Bush

March 9, 2001:
Russ Freyman, spokesman, National Association of Manufacturers

March 2, 2001:
Paul O’Neill

Feb. 23, 2001:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton

Feb. 16, 2001: Oscar spokesman
John Pavlik

Feb. 9, 2001:
Lynne Cheney

Feb. 2, 2001:
Bobby Thomson

Jan. 26, 2001:
Denise Rich