Tag Archives: Energy conservation

Texas Bi-Partisan Victory for Energy Efficiency

Oooooo la la!  Victories like this are sweet in the current Legislature and we are HAPPY.  Thank you, Legislators!

Today, the Texas House of Representatives passed SB 1125, an overhaul of the state-required utility energy efficiency programs,  on third reading on a 99-34 vote.

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Republican Senator Carona and in the House by Democratic Representative Anchia enjoyed bipartisan support.  It updates the energy efficiency programs that investor-owned utilities are required to manage by increasing and updating the goal for Energy Efficiency to 30 % of load growth by 2013, while transitioning to an equivalent percentage of peak winter and summer demand, and continuing to grow the programs beyond 2013.

The bill also requires ERCOT, the operators of Texas’s electrical grid, to allow market-based demand response programs for all customers, and allows utilities outside the competitive areas to directly interact with their customers on energy efficiency programs.

“This bipartisan bill should help customers gain more access to energy efficiency programs throughout the state while growing green jobs,” noted Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Energy efficiency is the cheapest, quickest and cleanest way to meet our energy needs.”
For more information, contact Cyrus Reed, 512-740-4086

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Big Voting Victory for Clean Energy…in Charlotte Building Codes Meeting

New Building Codes Can Save Texas Home and Business Owners $500/Year, Reduce Air Pollution

AUSTIN—Largely unnoticed in the shadow of upcoming midterm elections, the International Code Council—a body of building officials from local and state governments across the country—convened in Charlotte, North Carolina during the last week of October to make what is arguably the most significant energy policy decision of 2010. The Council meets every three years to consider updates to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the standard by which new homes and businesses are built, and this year, they voted overwhelmingly for stronger energy efficiency standards.

Over 400 delegates—including representatives from Houston, San Antonio, and other cities across Texas—voted on the new codes, which represent a major increase in the stringency of energy provisions for both homes and commercial buildings. If adopted statewide, the new code would represent at least a 30% improvement in the energy performance of buildings compared to the requirements currently in place.

“The new energy code protects new home and business owners by locking in energy savings at the beginning of the building’s life, when it is most efficient to do so,” stated Joyce Yao, Clean Energy Associate for Environment Texas. “In addition, buildings account for 40 percent of the country’s energy use and half of our global warming pollution, so improving the energy performance of Texas buildings will help move us towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.”

“We are proud of the efforts of our joint partners with the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition to get our Texas cities to send representatives to this important decision-making meeting, and we are especially proud of our Texas cities, whose representatives supported moving our national building codes to be 30% more efficient than the 2006 code,” noted Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Their action will save Texans money as cities begin to move from the 2009 IECC codes to the 2012 codes over the coming years, and help reduce pollution from power plants, while creating jobs in the private sector.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the new energy codes have the potential to net Texas homeowners an average of $500 each year in reduced energy costs, even considering the incrementally higher cost of constructing a more efficient new home. The codes call for the use of “off-the-shelf” measures that are already used by builders across the country, including better insulation, more efficient windows, and sealing of leaky heating and cooling ducts.

While the national model energy codes are now 30% stronger, those energy savings are not yet guaranteed for Texas home and business owners. Each state will now consider adoption of the new codes, which could occur as soon as the beginning of next year.

“Code officials today passed measures that increase energy efficiency and will save on electricity, gas, and fuel oil bills for people across the U.S,” commented Steve Rosenstock, manager at Edison Electric Institute, a coalition that represents private utilities across the nation

Recently in Texas, the State Energy Conservation Office adopted the 2009 IECC code as the minimum code for new construction, beginning in April of 2011. Many cities like El Paso, Austin, Waco, San Antonio and Laredo have already adopted the 2009 IECC.

“Our next step is to encourage states and localities to begin to adopt the 2012 IECC so that all new homebuyers will benefit from improved efficiency,” stated Reed.

“The officials who have supported these dramatic improvements to the energy efficiency of our nation’s buildings deserve tremendous credit. They’ve given Texas an important tool to help meet our nation’s energy, environmental, and economic challenges. Adoption of these changes will save home and business owners billions of dollars and keep energy money in our local economies while avoiding the pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels,” said Yao.

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Business and Commerce Committee consider retail pricing, nodal and… Austin Energy’s Clean Energy Plan

Key is to give businesses and consumers tools to reduce energy demand – and save money – says Sierra Club

The Senate Business and Commerce Committee met earlier this week to discuss, among other interim charges, the competition in electric retail markets including the impact of the “nodal” transition on electric customers. On December 1, 2010, the Texas ERCOT electricity market will officially transform from a “zonal” system – based on five geographic zones – to a “nodal” system, based on hundreds of local areas. Thus, electricity pricing should be more varied, with local factors of generation, transmission and congestion impacting the wholesale and ultimately retail price.

While several invited panelists expressed some concern about the potential for problems at least as the system is rolled out, Trip Doggett, President and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operators of the electric grid that covers roughly 80% of the Texas market, expressed confidence that testing had worked out must of the bugs in the system. Public Utility Commissioner Donna Nelson emphasized that the nodal system was already being paid for through a surcharge and that prices would not increase as a result of the software and infrastructure needed to change to nodal. In addition, she noted that PUC had passed rules to establish some ceiling prices during the transition to prevent any runups.

Much of the morning’s testimony centered on whether the deregulation of the wholesale, generation and retail markets of much of Texas had actually led to lower prices for consumers. While all admitted that today’s current low prices were heavily influenced by the historically low natural gas prices, Nelson, Phillip Oldham with the Texas Association of Manufacturers, John Fainter with the Association of Energy Companies of Texas, Marcie Zlotnik with StarTex Power, an electric retail provider, and Brad Jones, with Luminant Energy, for the most part felt that competition had led to more efficient generation and lower prices and felt that companies that had done their homework would be able to thrive in the “nodal” market. Taking a different tact, Jake Dyer, representing the Cities Aggregation Power Project, argued strenuously that “public” power provided by municipal utilities and electric cooperatives had represented a better deal for most residents, and presented information based upon prices reported by the Energy Information Administration to prove up his case. However, when asked by Chairman Corona (R-Dallas) whether his group would favor re-regulation of the electric market, he said it wanted reform, not re-regulation. Similarly, Bee Morehead with the interreligious non-profit organization Texas Impact said the market was not working for most people – particularly Texans with lower and moderate incomes — and suggested a major overhaul of the “Power to Choose” website which people rely upon to choose their electric provider among other fixes. Similarly, Tim Morestead with AARP said a workshop of some 140 older Texans given the chance to compare and choose contracts from different providers resulted in mass confusion among many.

Testifying that Sierra Club did not actually know what the impact of the nodal market would have on retail electric prices – except it would lead to more local variability – Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed instead called for a series of legislative changes to promote energy efficiency, demand side management and onsite renewable energy. As Reed pointed out, while we can’t know how the nodal market will impact retail rates, we can reduce bills through promotion of such efforts.

Among Sierra Club’s suggested fixes were:

  • Creation of a Texas Energy Efficiency Coordinating Council which would oversee and coordinate the different energy efficiency program offered or overseen by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the State Energy Conservation Office and the Public Utility Commission, among others;
  • Raising the energy efficiency goals that investor-owned utilities must meet, but allowing such utilities to more directly interact with customers;
  • Allowing retail electric providers, investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities and electric cooperatives to provide on-bill financing for energy efficiency and solar projects;
  • Allowing aggregators and others to “bid-in” demand-side management – where individuals and companies voluntarily turn down their power use for payment – into the ERCOT nodal market;
  • Establishing a statewide fair market price on the sale of surplus electricity from solar rooftops;
  • Clarifying the rules for when Homeowner Associations can prevent – if at all — a homeowner from putting up solar panels.

To see Cyrus Reed’s testimony on video, click here. Then Click on the Video Feed for October 25th. Testimony starts at 3 hours and 1 minute.

A side-note that was not officially on the agenda were a number of individuals who came to speak against Austin Energy’s Generation Plan and Climate Protection Plan – which calls for Austin Energy to increase its renewable resources up to some 35 percent of total generation —  as having the potential to add huge costs to consumer’s bills and lead to great uncertainty on reliability and costs. Data Foundry’s Andrew McFarlane, called for municipal utilities to be opened up to competition from other utilities so that businesses could choose another provider, a proposal that led Chairman Corona to suggest such advice would be sent to a subcommittee chaired by Austin Senator Kirk Watson, a former mayor and board member of Austin Energy. Some other suggestions by McFarlane and others, however, drew more favorable responses, such as the idea for greater transparency of municipal cost data. The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has officially endorsed the Austin Energy 2020 Generation Plan, with the understanding that each decision on additional purchases of generation would have to go through a public process to assess all the costs and benefits of such additions.

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We’re No. 32 in Energy Efficiency Programs! Sierra Club, Public Citizen and Environment Texas Cry Foul

Texas Stumbles Further on Energy Efficiency Rankings
AUSTIN – A new report released today by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranks Texas 32nd in the nation for programs to promote energy efficiency, a drop from last year’s ranking of 23 and the previous year’s ranking of 19.  A coalition of clean energy groups seized on the findings to call on the state of Texas to boost energy codes in buildings and establish an Energy Efficiency Office.

“Energy efficiency lowers the wholesale price of electricity and gas, which acts as a tax cut for Texas residents and businesses,” said Joyce Yao, Clean Energy Associate of Environment Texas. “While other states have made the necessarily investments in energy efficiency to help their residents save money, Texas continues to lag behind, forcing Texans to pay too much on energy bills. We need to create an independent state agency for energy efficiency to benefit consumers, save the state a substantial amount of money and streamline state processes.”

The coalition of clean energy groups also called on code officials across the state to support the Thirty Percent Solution at the International Code Council’s Final Action Hearings at the end of the month. This would increase energy codes by 30% over the 2006 IECC, and is part of a two-step process to achieve a 50% increase in energy efficiency by 2018, yielding a 20% reduction in fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions from our nation’s buildings by 2020.

While Texas was an early leader in energy efficiency investments, other states have dramatically increased their energy savings programs, leading to Texas’ decline in the overall state rankings. In a December 2008 report, the Public Utility Commission of Texas found vast potential for energy efficiency in the state which, if tapped, could save Texans as much $11.9 billion on their electric bills.

One explanation for why Texas lags on energy efficiency on the national level is the failure to have any statewide program to reduce natural gas use. Furthermore, due to inadequate tracking and coordination by the state, some efficiency efforts – such as municipal efficiency programs – are not being credited, which may have factored into Texas’s staggering drop in the ACEEE’s scorecard.  This further highlights the need for an independent Energy Efficiency Coordinating Council that can comprehensively track the state’s progress on energy efficiency measures.

“The Sunset Review of our main environmental, housing, water and energy agencies in Texas and the upcoming legislative session provide the perfect opportunity to see how our existing programs can be enhanced on energy efficiency, but also how we can at the same time save our businesses and residents money on gas and water bills,” said Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We need coordinated electric, gas and water conservation programs in Texas so we can save money, reduce pollution and create jobs for Texans.”

“This report indicates a dire need for reform of the way our state leaders treat the most consumer-friendly energy resource,” said Matthew Johnson, Energy Efficiency Research Associate at Public Citizen. “The silver lining to this sobering wake-up call is the coming legislative session. Legislators have an opportunity to bring the uncoordinated state agencies in line so Texans get a chance to learn and participate in the broad array of energy efficiency opportunities.”

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Energy Codes: El Paso Does It! Corpus Next?

On September 21st, the El Paso City Council approved new building codes, including the 2009 IECC energy code, designed to make new homes, commercial buildings and businesses more energy efficient. The measure — required by a new state ruling supported by Sierra Club from the State Energy Conservation Office –earlier this year, will mean El Paso becomes the latest city to adopt the latest version of the IECC codes, joining San Antonio, Waco, College Station, Austin, and Beaumont among others. The new codes are some 10 to 15 percent more energy efficient than existing state codes. While Dallas and Houston rely on the 2006 IECC codes, they have local amendments that already meet the 2009 IECC standards, though Houston will be proposing some additional amendments soon. At the El Paso meeting, both the AIA — the Architects — and the local Homebuilders supported the adoption of the 2009 codes, only a few months after the Homebuilders had vociferously opposed it after which Sierra Club and the City sponsored a forum to reassure folks it wouldn’t break the bank. In other local news, District 2 Councilmember Susie Byrd is working on a local resolution supported by the Sierra Club, many local businesses and the American Institute of Architects local chapter to create a greenbuilding task force to look at other measures to increase energy efficiency in local buildings. Look for a public meeting on the resolution October 5th.

Meanwhile, the Builders Association of Corpus Christ and their local greenbuilding effort, Coastal Bend Green Built, is teaming up with the City and utility AEP to begin discussing the mandatory adoption of the 2009 IECC code in the coming months. Corpus already has a robust greenbuilding program, but how the new codes would impact their energy star homes has some builders concerned. Sierra Club will be working with our friends in the building industry and the City to suggest local amendments that can help Corpus save money, save energy and produce local jobs! Look for news here on an upcoming public forum on the issue.

Bryan has also announced they will be holding meetings on the 2009 IECC codes in the coming weeks as cities throughout Texas get more efficient. Never knew building codes could be so exciting.

Finally, a bunch of cities will be sending folks to the International Code Council meeting next month in North Carolina, where the 2012 codes will be discussed. Sierra Club is part of a coalition supporting the 30% solution to make energy codes even more efficient.

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