Energy Efficiency Awakening at Capitol

Mindful of predictions that state's energy reserve margins will fall short by 2008, Legislators question whether new coal plants are a logical response, file energy-efficiency bills

Across the state, the ongoing war over various utilities' plans to build new coal-fired power plants has led to a higher consciousness about how energy is generated and consumed. Now, with predictions that the state's energy reserve margins will fall short by the 2008 summer peak season, many question whether new coal plants are a logical response, considering their disproportionate contributions to global warming, smog, ozone, and mercury pollution; that none could be operational before 2009; and, most of all, that new data continues to emerge in support of Texas' ability to meet its growing energy needs by using electricity more efficiently and by better tapping our renewable resources. State legislators from both parties have responded by filing a bevy of bills to effect such changes.

The latest report, by D.C. nonprofit the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, commissioned by Environmental Defense, suggests that energy efficiency measures and renewable energy, combined with significantly expanded peak energy demand response systems, can meet 107% of the state's new peak-energy demand through 2013 – resulting in consumer savings of up to 50% over energy from new coal plants. An example of what the report calls peak energy demand response systems are "smart" thermostats that can be cycled off momentarily by utilities so that everyone's air conditioner isn't running simultaneously – a technology used by 55,000 Austin Energy customers, which if expanded, can create 1,000 megawatts in energy savings by 2009, according to the report, equivalent to two normal-sized coal plants. In addition to energy efficiency, which can come from better weatherizing of homes and businesses or using energy-frugal lighting and appliances, the report also calls for more on-site renewable energy generation. Mike Sloan, a local energy consultant and report co-author, said this could be achieved through small-scale wind turbines, by using agricultural waste as fuel, and, in urban settings like Austin, by installing large photovoltaic solar systems at commercial sites.

Taking notice, state leaders have been hard at work filing legislation to whip Texas' sloppy energy use practices into shape. Here are a few of the bills that coincide with the above efficiency strategies, encourage energy conservation, or simply have greens feeling giddy:

•House Bill 269 requires utilities to meet 50% of new, annual electricity demand with efficiency measures (up from 10%).

•Senate Bill 12, HB 999, and SB 445 toughen the state's building codes for homes, commercial buildings, and schools.

SB 12, HB 1122, and SB 489 establish appliance efficiency standards.

SB 12 also requires state agencies to save energy.

HB 2266 creates a statewide incentive fund for solar system installation.

HB 3693 is an omnibus bill covering all of the above.

SB 541 requires continued education for licensed architects to include energy-efficient design.

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