Energy efficiency could get greased with Speaker Straus

A house divided? A call for unified energy action headed to Austin.

Greg Harman

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As you might expect with the steady drumbeat of climate change woes, roller-coastering energy prices, and anxiety rippling out of our hemorrhaging economy, there is a lot of interest being expressed in what direction the Texas Legislature will be taking on energy issues this session.

Having San Antonian Joe Straus at the helm offers a vast improvement over the dearly departed Craddick but offers no lock on sustainable energy solutions.

You may recall that is was Straus who carried House Bill 3693 last session, which got the Texas Public Utility Commission examining potential savings the state could realize through energy efficiency.

“Energy efficiency is our cheapest, cleanest and quickest source of new energy,” Straus said back in â??07. “Today the House voted to double our current energy efficiency and conservation efforts by 2009. This effort will help our state avoid the predicted energy shortfall.”

After farming out a study on the topic, the PUC agreed with the rest of thinking people that there are big savings in this so-called negawatt stuff.

Wrote Tom Fowler in the Houston Chronicle:

Texas could reduce its peak electric usage by more than 23 percent in the next seven years if utilities would invest more in efficiency programs, according to a study released recently by the Public Utility Commission.

The efficiency efforts, which would funnel through existing programs administered by the electric transmission companies in the parts of Texas open to competition, would save consumers as much as $2 for every $1 invested, according to the study.

But to really move the mountains that remain â?? to canvass the state's greenhouse gas emissions in preparation for C02 regulation, create strong incentives for solar energy's booming in the desert, and implement aggressive efficiency measures from deregulated Texas â?? will require some staffing changes in Austin.

One legislator spotlighted in a recent Texas League of Conservation Voters report is that of Angleton's Dennis Bonnen.

From LCV's 2007 Score Card (pdf):

Craddick's appointment to chair the-House Environmental Regulations Committee, Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen, effectively squashes any sensible environmental legislation that hasn't received pre-approval from the polluter lobby.

Most bills suffer one of two fates: they're never brought up for public testimony or they're left in committee to die. In that sense, Chairman Bonnen is merely fulfilling his marching orders from Speaker Craddick.

What sets Chairman Bonnen apart, and has earned him the nickname, “Dennis the Menace” from House colleagues, is his rude and bullying tactics towards conservation advocates and citizens who testify before his committee and dare to offer a different opinion than his.

We wanted to hear from Straus' office what was to become of Bonnen, where he hoped to see the Lege move with energy efficiency goals, establishing new renewables portfolios, and the overall economic “greening” that will spur new, clean industry. However, seems Straus is floating without a designated press agent at the ready. We'll have to update you later in the week.

Until we get those answers, get yourself familiar with the measures being advocated by groups like the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. Their 12-Step plan (pdf) for the Texas Lege is in their most recent State Capitol Report.

You know, the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem. On that point, when it comes to energy, we all appear to be on the same page these days.