EDF’s Jim Marston in HouChron on Single State Agency for Efficiency

Some great points from the director of Environmental Defense Fund‘s Texas Regional Office (and Energy Program), Jim Marston.

If you’re concerned about government spending, consolidating existing efficiency programs and oversight into one agency has the potential to reduce overlap and redundancy in government and create more opportunities for consumers and businesses to save money.

Appeared in the Houston Chronicle online edition on Aug 28:

Consolidate efforts in energy efficiency


It’s time our state government got serious about energy efficiency and consolidated its random energy efficiency efforts into one agency that will focus on nothing else. Because what we have now is not working.

It’s an annual fact of life in Texas: When the mercury creeps toward triple digits, our electric bills soar, too.

It’s also a fact that the cheapest kilowatt of electricity is the one you don’t have to use.

Now, no one is suggesting that Texans go without our air-conditioning — or even that we set our thermostats so high that we spend the summer perspiring and panting like a dog under a shade tree.

But staying comfortable doesn’t mean we should simply bite the bullet as our electric bills continue to climb. Study after study shows that a dollar invested in energy efficiency pays off 2 or 3 to 1. And that’s money in Texans’ pockets.

We’re not talking about deprivation here, we’re talking about maintaining our lifestyles and saving money. We’re talking about better insulation, double-paned windows, better circulation, timer thermostats, energy-efficient appliances, innovations like rooftop water heaters, even strategically placed shade trees that will not just keep your dog cooler but your house, too, and dozens of other commonsense measures we can do as alternatives to soaring utility bills and building more and more power plants.

Our state government has paid lip service to energy efficiency (EE) but to say it’s been a low priority is putting it mildly.

Municipally owned utilities like Austin Energy and San Antonio’s CPS Energy are doing a good job of promoting energy efficiency. They provide home energy audits and give generous rebates and other incentives to customers who want to invest in efficiency measures that will cut their electric bills.

Some customer-owned rural electric co-ops are also ahead of the curve in promoting greater efficiency.

But private, investor-owned utility companies are another story. Perhaps because they profit from increased consumption, most power companies lag far behind municipal and co-op utilities in helping their customers use less electricity.

Under current law, the Public Utility Commission (PUC), the agency in charge of regulating most of the state’s “poles and wires” companies, is supposed to review and approve the EE programs of the utilities. But other state agencies oversee EE programs, too, including the Department of Housing & Community Affairs and the State Energy Conservation Office, a division of the Comptroller’s Office.

Consolidating these efforts into one agency with a clear mandate to promote EE would streamline state regulation and create more savings potential for Texas consumers and businesses.

As things stand now, the PUC’s negative attitude toward energy efficiency is holding Texas back. Over the past year and a half, the PUC staff has worked on plans to increase the state’s EE goals. On July 30, however, the three PUC commissioners, all appointees of Gov. Rick Perry, slashed the staff proposal dramatically. They reduced the efficiency goal from 1 percent of peak demand by 2014 to just one-third of the growth in demand by 2013 — a much smaller increase and, in fact, barely above the goal already in place.

The PUC has even proposed curtailing the amount utilities can spend on efficiency measures.

This makes no sense. In the past four years, there have been at least four internal PUC and independent reports that show Texas can achieve more energy efficiency. Every one shows that efficiency saves consumers money and has an investment payback of 2 or 3 to 1.

It’s time for the Legislature to take control and create a new, independent state agency that can put consumers first. Water and natural gas efficiency programs could also be included to create a one-stop shop for efficiency information.

If Texans are given the facts and affordable ways to increase their efficiency and cut their bills, they’ll do the smart thing.

Marston is director of Environmental Defense Fund’s Texas office and is national director of EDF’s Energy Program.

Write your state rep. and senator a quick email here. Tell ’em you support a single agency for efficiency.


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