[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect bill number for a bill requiring rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities to report to the state on their energy efficiency work.]
Environmentalists lost several battles this legislative session — there will be no statewide solar rebates, and no overhaul for the Texas Railroad Commission. But one bright spot, they say, is energy efficiency.
A handful of bills promoting energy-saving measures passed the Legislature this session and await the governor's signature. They range from allowing churches access to an energy-efficiency loan program, to making it easier for schools to find funding for energy-efficiency measures.
"This is a session where we did a lot of minor improvements in energy efficiency programs," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, the head of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a consumer and environmental advocacy group.
The bill that got most attention was SB 1125, a measure authored by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. It changes the goals of the state energy-efficiency program for transmission companies like Oncor or Centerpoint. Instead of requiring those companies to reduce their customers' electricity use by 30 percent of the annual growth in demand, they will eventually be required instead to reduce their usage by 0.4 percent of each company's overall annual load.
Walt Baum, executive vice president of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, said that this will result in a more stable goal for companies, and also should result in an overall increase in energy efficiency across Texas. However, he said, for some small companies, which may not have seen much demand growth recently, the new measure will be "a more achievable goal."
Environmentalists also embraced the bill.
Some other bills included new efficiency reporting requirements. SB 924 requires electric companies that are in Texas but not supervised by the Texas grid operator — meaning municipal utilities and rural electric coops — to report on their work on energy efficiency to the state. They are not, however, required to implement efficiency measures. SB 898, sponsored by Carona, requires some additional energy-efficiency analysis by counties, state agencies and higher education institutions.
Carona "has always been interested in energy efficiency legislation," said Erika Akpan, a policy analyst with the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, which Carona chairs. "Energy efficiency just kept popping up as something that needed to be dealt with."
Universities are encouraged by another bill, HB 51, to design and renovate buildings to meet high energy-performance standards. And schools will find it a bit easier to use funds from different sources for energy efficiency programs under a bill authored by state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland.
SB 1434, another efficiency bill, "brings some new accountability to the low-income weatherization program that utilities are required to offer," said Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, a progressive, faith-based advocacy group. Like many of the other bills, she said, it's not "earth-shattering" — but should result in "better use of funds."
HB 2077, sponsored by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, makes churches and other nonprofits eligible for loans from a state fund that promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy (and gets its money largely from the federal government). This is important, according to Texas Impact, because churches and other nonprofits cannot take advantage of many other efficiency incentives due to their tax status.
But environmentalists did not win all their energy-efficiency battles. A bill that would have created an "energy efficiency coordinating council," to bring some, well, coordination, to efficiency efforts made by various state agencies from the Public Utility Commission to the State Energy Conservation Office, died.
Another bill that passed lashes back at the federal government for its attempt to phase out incandescent light bulbs in favor of more efficient ones like compact fluorescents and light-emitting diodes. HB 2510, authored by Rep. George Lavender, R-Texarkana, essentially exempts any incandescents made in Texas — and sold in Texas — from federal regulation. (It is unclear, however, how many incandescent light bulbs are actually manufactured in Texas, and thus what the practical effect of this bill will be.)
By national standards, however, Texas also has a long way to go on its energy-saving efforts. A report last year by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that Texas ranked 32nd out of all states on a variety of efficiency measures. Texas also slipped further — nine slots — than any state.