What’s in Store for the 81st Legislative Session

With the announcement of the Texas Legislature Committee rosters, I thought that some light should be shed on the 2009 Legislative Recommendations as posted by the Alliance for a Clean Texas. You can read the full reports here, but here’s a quick-read version for  renewable energy and energy efficiency issues:

  • Diversify our Renewable Energy Mix. Its no surprise to most of us that Texas is in first place for renewable energy resources. Legislation has historically supported wind energy, but so much of our potential has not been tapped. Studies have shown that that our potential for solar is even greater than that of wind.
  • Incentives for Solar Roofs and other On-site Renewables. Instead of relying on power plants to supply our energy, wouldn’t it be great if we could have our power sources closer to home? On-site renewable technologies would be cheaper considering the spike in energy costs during high-demand season, and of course would help to improve air quality. Solar power is especially efficient, with new technologies that can be installed directly on the roofs of buildings. However, the current cost of a home or commericial system is still not cost-effective without government incentives. Solar power is estimated to reach parity with traditional electricity sources within the next five years.  By getting a jump on it ahead of time, early investment will allow Texas to benefit economically as demand increases.
  • Raise the Energy Efficiency Goal. Texas should aim to decrease both energy demand and energy usage. ACT recommends that the Legislature should raise the goal to 1.0 percent of peak demand and energy use by 2015 (equivalent to 50 percent load growth by 2015). By contributing only a small percentage of revenue, utility companies can invest in energy efficiency programs that will decrease peak demand of energy usage. In 2007, the legislature unanimously approved a 20% decrease in load growth by 2009, and a research study required by the legislation also supported our ability to cut load growth by 50% by 2015.
  • Increase the Texas LoanSTAR Program: The Texas LoanSTAR program (how clever) is designed to Save Taxes And Resources (STAR) by monitoring energy use and promoting energy-saving retrofits in public buildings. Schools and state agencies can apply for loans from LoanSTAR to install the recommended retrofits, and are usually repaid with savings from the energy-efficient measures installed. These loans have generated over $212 million dollars in energy savings, which is translated into direct savings to Texas taxpayers. There is currently a waiting list to receive these loans, and the amount of money currently available is only $98.6 million dollars. ACT recommends an expanded LoanSTAR program to allow other entities, such as various non-profit organizations and municipalities, to apply for the loans, and also to raise the funding to $300 million dollars.
  • Adopt Additional State Appliance Efficiency Standards. Appliance standards are one of the easiest, quickest, and most inexpensive ways to save energy and reduce costs. So far, the federal government has established over 45 standards for different appliances and products. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy(ACEEE) estimates that if Texas adopts standards for seven product categories not currently covered by federal government, then consumers and businesses could save over one billion dollars on their energy bills by 2030. The seven products proposed are bottle-type water dispensers, commercial hot food holding cabinets, compact audio products, DVD players and recorders, portable electric spas, residential pool pumps, and state-regulated incandescent reflector lamps.
  • Fund Weatherization Assistance for Existing Homes through the System Benefit Fund. Many low rent or inexpensive mortgage homes in Texas have the worst energy efficiency, leaving some of the poorest people in Texas paying some of the most expensive utility bills. Weatherization of these homes would not only decrease individual utility bills but also decrease the total energy consumption of the state. This could be easily achieved by tapping into the money stored away in the Systems Benefit Fund, which was created in 1999 and financed by a monthly surcharge on electricity consumers. Allegedly, the fund is supposed to be allocated for very specific purposes at outlined in Section 39.903 in the Utilities Code, but the Fund hasn’t been touched since 2003.

So there you have it, folks. Stay tuned for any upcoming legislative action.