Oil depletion will change the face of the electricity industry in and outside California. It will unleash competing demands between transportation and power plants for coal and natural gas while simultaneously demanding more electricity to run cars and public transit, according to leading scientists and economists meeting in Washington, D.C., this week. California may well be most vulnerable to such a conflict, some said. "World oil consumption is outstripping new discoveries and has been for decades," said Roger Bezdek, president of Management Information Services, a Washington-based economic and energy research firm. Bezdek, former research director of the federal Energy Research and Development Administration, made his remarks at the conference "Peak Oil and the Environment." In his May 7 address to the conference, Bezdek - author of a study for the Department of Energy released this month - predicted tight competition between, on the one hand, the electricity and gas utility industries and, on the other hand, a burgeoning gas- and coal-to-liquids industry that will emerge as motorists begin to face dry pumps in the decade ahead. The various industries will compete over coal and gas, driving up their price. They also will compete over workers, creating a labor shortage in the United States. Coal-to-liquid production is up, according to the Energy Information Administration, as is the use of coal for electricity generation. Increased demand has caused the delivered price of coal to independent power producers in 2005 to go up for the fifth consecutive year to an average of $30.26 per short ton. Coal-to-liquid plants already are being proposed in the United States, as are clean coal plants to make electricity. Gas-to-liquid plants, however, are unlikely to be built in the U.S. because of a lack of gas in North America, according to Bezdek. They are expected to be built overseas, where they will compete for supplies of gas with liquefied natural gas plants. "There are no magic bullets," observed Bezdek, "only poison pills." At the same time as substitution of coal- and gas-to-liquid fuels for oil occurs, California will be under heavy pressure to electrify much of its transportation by deploying large numbers of "plug-in hybrid" vehicles - a move advocated at the conference by Daniel Lashof, Natural Resources Defense Council deputy director, to control greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, more electrified urban mass transit will be needed to keep the economy moving, said David Blittersdorf, NRG Systems president. Both will put pressure on the grid. This combination of moves in response to oil depletion will shrink vast U.S. coal reserves to 50 years, said Richard Heinberg, New College of California professor of culture, ecology, and sustainable community. The National Mining Association projects that the U.S. has enough coal to last about 250 years under current usage rates.