In Energy Efficiency Report, Austin Gets High Marks

A view of downtown Austin from River St.
A view of downtown Austin from River St.

Texas policymakers searching for ways to curb energy use across their rapidly growing state might want to examine efforts in their capital city.

Austin is among large U.S. cities doing the most to conserve energy, according to a study released Tuesday by a national group that promotes energy efficiency. The Washington D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy analyzed conservation efforts across the country’s 34 most populous cities, ranking Austin sixth behind Boston, Portland, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle.

The analysis comes after this year’s summer put less pressure than expected on Texas power supplies. But utility regulators continue to share concerns about meeting the long-term energy demands of an increasingly hot, dry state whose economy is quickly growing.

The group evaluated energy policy in five areas: buildings, transportation, energy and water utility efforts, local government operations, and communitywide initiatives. Sound policies in those areas, the group said, lower utility bills, boost local economies and cut down on pollution.

“Local governments have great influence over energy use in their communities and many have initiatives that result in significant energy and cost savings,” Eric Mackres, the report’s lead author, said in a news release.

The 255-page report highlighted several conservation programs in Austin, including efforts to make buildings more energy-efficient — a category in which it tied for third nationally. Austin, for instance, is one of about two-dozen Texas cities that has adopted a stricter energy building code than the state requires. The city has boosted compliance with the code by using independent auditors, according to the report. It also requires energy audits before sales of certain properties, and Austin Energy, the city's electric utility, is working to meet an efficiency goal.

Lucia Athens, head of the city's Office of Sustainability, said the ranking shows that Austin is committed to reducing energy use. The city's policies, she said, are helping Austin become more sustainable and are important in our effort to fight climate change.”

The next Texas city in the ranking was Houston, which came in at 13th. Dallas ranked 14th, followed by San Antonio (16th), El Paso (23rd) and Fort Worth (26th). Though those cities trailed Austin, some drew top marks in certain categories.

El Paso and Fort Worth were among four cities earning top scores for water utilities. The study pointed to those cities' "comprehensive water-related energy efficiency initiatives, water saving policies and programs, and efforts to manage stormwater."

El Paso, for instance, cut water use by a half-billion gallons between 2011 and 2012. By 2020, the city aims to reduce per-capita consumption from 139 gallons per day in 2011 to 130 gallons. In the category for building efficiency, however, El Paso was at the bottom of the list. 

Houston’s water policies ranked close behind El Paso and Fort Worth. The report also recognized Houston for a strict, well-enforced building code. The city says it has retrofitted almost 6 million square feet of buildings, reducing energy usage by close to 30 percent.

High marks for efficient policies did not necessarily indicate that cities used the fewest resources. Though Austin’s and Fort Worth’s water policies scored highly, for instance, the cities rank among the biggest per-capita water users. The study said those cities “recognize and are attempting to address their high water use.”

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