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Report: Texas Makes Strides in Energy Efficiency

After a years-long tumble, Texas has taken a major leap forward in an annual state-by-state ranking of energy efficiency policies — those aimed at slashing utility bills and carbon emissions by curbing energy use.

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After a years-long tumble, Texas has taken a major leap forward in an annual state-by-state ranking of energy efficiency policies — those aimed at slashing utility bills and carbon emissions by curbing energy use.

Texas jumped eight slots and now ranks 26th among states on a measure of progressive policymaking, according to a report released Wednesday by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a Washington-based advocacy group.

In the group’s first national assessment, in 2007, Texas ranked 11th before steadily falling to 34th last year.

The report, relevant amid discussions about whether and how states will meet new federal targets for cutting carbon, scored each state in six categories: state government initiatives, building codes, combined heat and power, utility policies, transportation and efficiency requirements for appliances.

Texas scored particularly high in building codes, trailing just six states. It last updated its statewide energy codes for residential and commercial buildings in 2011 to comport with a 2009 international model. Last legislative session, lawmakers adopted legislation that will tighten the code to 2015 standards next year.

"Strong codes reduce energy waste and cost over the lifetime of a home or building, make them more durable, and improve the comfort and health of the people who live and work in them,” Doug Lewin, executive director of the Austin-based South-Central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource, said in a statement. “Texas’ leadership in this area is exciting.”

By 2030, the state’s building code shift could cut energy use by about 1 million megawatt-hours per year, according to a calculator built by ICF International, an energy analytics firm that federal regulators use.

(On average, one megawatt-hour of energy can power as many as 100 Texas homes for an hour on the hottest summer day. During average temperatures, it can power many times more.)

The scorecard rated Texas poorly in energy efficiency policies for utilities. In 1999, state regulators adopted the nation’s first energy goals for utilities but have only tightened them modestly in recent years, the report said, putting Texas far below other states in that category.

That’s primarily why the state’s ranking dropped in recent years, Lewin said in an interview. But he added that Texas utilities and retail electric providers are doing well in some areas that Wednesday’s report didn’t score, such as making energy data available to customers through high-tech meters and thermostats.

Nationwide, utilities have put some $7 billion toward energy efficiency in the past year, according to the report. Advocates say focusing on using less energy could provide a major boost to states trying to comply with President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, regulations to fight climate change by cleaning up the nation’s power sector.

Rolling out the regulations in August, the federal Environmental Protection Agency projected that Texas — if it tried to — could meet 7 percent of its carbon-cutting goal through efficiency measures.

“If we do a state plan, we can count those things,” Lewin said.

But it’s not clear that Texas leaders will play ball, with some state Republicans calling on Texas to just say no to the regulations.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has called the regulations part of Obama’s “war on coal and fossil fuels,” plans to sue once the agency officially publishes its regulations.

Texas leaders have refused to say whether they will create a carbon-cutting plan in case they lose in court. If Texas flouts the rule, the EPA will impose its own plan on the state. 

Massachusetts took first place in the efficiency group’s report, followed by California and Vermont. Oregon and Rhode Island tied for fourth. North Dakota fared the worst. Wyoming, South Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi joined it at the bottom of the rankings.

The report also evaluated energy efficiency measures in the country’s 50 largest cities. Austin ranked ninth, Houston ranked 13th and Dallas tied with Milwaukee for 22nd. 

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