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TribBlog: Efficiency Sufficiency

Within 10 days, the Public Utility Commission plans to adopt stricter requirements for energy efficiency, though they are lower than originally proposed.

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By Aug. 12, the Public Utility Commission plans to adopt stricter requirements for energy efficiency in Texas.

The new rules would require that utilities offset 25 percent of growth in electricity demand with efficiency measures by 2012, and 30 percent in 2013. The current requirement is 20 percent.

But the rule is less strict than an earlier proposal that would have required efficiency to offset 50 percent of growth by 2014. The commission's chairman, Barry Smitherman, proposed lowering the targets last month, citing concerns about up-front costs associated with the higher targets. The proposal, he wrote, "would continue to accelerate the energy efficiency program without experiencing any significant 'growing pains' from overly aggressive targets."

In a commission meeting last Friday, Smitherman and commissioner Kenneth Anderson voted for the measure. Commissioner Donna Nelson dissented, saying that she was "very concerned about the cost of this rule" and questioned the "wisdom of increasing the mandate," given that natural gas prices have plunged in the last few years. Also, she said, Texas utilities did far better than current targets, given hefty incentives to overshoot their targets.

The order (which will be slightly modified from this version per the commission's Friday discussion) is due to take effect on Dec. 1.

All three commissioners voiced hope that the Legislature would, in Smitherman's words, "give us some additional direction this coming session." Last session, the Legislature considered a number of bills to promote energy efficiency, but only one of them passed.

Nelson expressed concerns about the need for better methodology to measure the costs and benefits of the efficiency program, and Smitherman said that the commission would revisit the issue after the session.

To watch the commission's discussion of the rule, click here and scroll down to item 17.

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