Monthly Archives: May 2013

Environmental Accomplishments And Missed Opportunities From The 83rd Texas Legislative Session

This blog post is co-authored by Marita Mirzatuny and Kate Zerrenner.

In addition to passing tax cuts and making pecan pie the official state pie of Texas, the 83rd Legislature heard numerous energy-related bills.  As a solution to our Texas Energy Crunch efforts, EDF supported 13 bills that would have provided relief to Texas’ resource adequacy problems; in other words, the issues Texas faces as a result of increasing energy demand, scorching temperatures and a record drought.  Among those bills (which we review on page 13 of our ‘State of the Texas Energy Crunch’ report) are a few, highlighted below, that made some – albeit not enough – progress.

Energy Legislation

A big success this session was the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 385 by Chairman John Carona.  SB 385, or the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bill, clears some of the hurdles that prohibit commercial and industrial properties from taking advantage of new financing for energy improvements.  PACE allows property owners to pay for water and energy efficiency upgrades or renewable energy improvements with loans, which are then repaid through an annual charge on their property tax bill.  For more on this legislation, please see our recent blog post covering PACE in Texas.

Chairman Carona’s demand response bill, SB 1351, passed and was referred to State Affairs in the House.  Demand response (DR) initiatives allow customers to voluntarily reduce peak electricity use and receive a payment for doing so in response to a signal from their utilities.  Additionally, Chairman Rafael Anchía introduced the companion bill, House Bill (HB) 2194.  HB 2194 allows for customer, or demand-side resources (DSR), from “residential, commercial, and industrial customers to participate in all energy markets” and specifies that DSR “must be designed and implemented in a manner to increase market efficiency, competition, and customer benefits.” This bill clears the way for demand response, renewable energy, and energy efficiency to become important players in the market.

SB 1280, by Senator Kirk Watson, passed out of the Business and Commerce Committee with a seven to two vote.  This bill, regarding Texas’ reserve margin for the electric grid, requires that power regions (such as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT) estimate the available generation at any given time, the expected peak demand (demand at the hottest part of the day when the most energy is being used) and the amount of reserve energy needed to ensure a reliable electricity supply.  SB 1280 also directs the use of voluntary load participation programs (think demand response) with at least 20 percent of peak energy demand coming from each of the residential, commercial and industrial sectors.

Senator José Rodríguez’s net metering bill, SB 1239, successfully passed out of the Business and Commerce committee.  Texas is one of only seven states where customers are not guaranteed fair compensation for the electricity they provide to the grid.  SB 1239 clarifies that all retail electric providers, municipal utilities and cooperatives must buy back extra electricity from residential customers along with churches and schools at a reasonable, market-based value.  For example, Los Angeles implemented the largest solar buyback program in the nation earlier this year, paying customers 17 cents a kilowatt hour for excess energy produced.

In the House, HB 303 by Representative Eddie Rodriguez called for a new renewable energy goal – to supply 35 percent of energy demand with clean energy by 2020, with at least two percent coming from solar.  This marks an important precedent for the clean energy standards introduced in state legislatures around the country.  Additionally, Representative Rafael Anchía authored HB 2196, a bill that addresses payments to customers for renewable energy and other demand-side contributions to the electric grid.

While it’s great that some of the bills gained some traction, only SB 385 made its way to the Governor’s desk.  With a hotter than average summer approaching, possibly worse than 2011, electric reliability is not a guarantee and these bills would have provided solutions to help address our energy issues.  Already Texas is receiving national attention for our impeding energy shortages.


Water Legislation

At the last minute, the House and Senate, after much back door negotiating and out front wrangling, approved a plan to fund the State Water Plan.  HB 4, by Chairman Allan Ritter, set up two funding accounts to pay for water projects.  These accounts must be approved by voters, because the bills would amend Texas’ Constitution to allow the plan to be initially funded with a portion of the Rainy Day Fund. Read More »

Posted in Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Texas / Comments are closed

EDF Releases New Blog For All Our Expert Voices

Environmental Defense Fund’s new flagship blog collects stories, ideas and arguments from all of our EDF expert voices in one place.


EDF’s Energy Exchange blog is where we discuss how to accelerate the transition to a clean, low-carbon energy economy. We keep you updated on the latest clean energy news and provide thoughtful analysis on the issues. However, we know you may have a broad interest in environmental issues.

That’s why we wanted to share with you Environmental Defense Fund’s new flagship blog, EDF Voices. EDF Voices collects stories, ideas and arguments from all of our EDF expert voices in one place. Our thought leaders use this space to weigh in on all sorts of environmental issues, from tips on how to convince people of the reality of climate change to reflections on how a businessman turned conservationist decided to leave a natural legacy for future generations.

We hope you like what you read on our new EDF Voices blog and become a subscriber.



Posted in General / Comments are closed

Texas Picks Up The Clean Energy PACE

Chairman John Carona’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bill, Senate Bill 385 (SB 385), which was sponsored by Chairman Jim Keffer in the House, is headed to the Texas Governor’s desk!  Building upon successful legislation passed in 2009 to authorize “PACE districts” in Texas, SB 385 clears some of the hurdles that prevent commercial and industrial properties from taking advantage of new financing for water and energy conservation efforts.

PACE is an innovative, market-based approach that helps alleviate the steep, upfront costs property that owners generally incur for water and energy improvements by using loans that are seamlessly repaid through an additional charge on their property tax bills.  The loan is then attached to the property, rather than the owner, and can be transferred if the property is sold.  PACE loans can be issued by city or county financing districts or financial institutions, such as banks.  Property owners who participate will start saving money on their utility bills each month as a result of water conservation, energy efficiency and/or renewable energy improvements, while repaying the loan annually when they file their taxes.  In other words, they will see net gains despite increased property taxes.  The program is entirely voluntary.

In 2009, Governor Perry signed House Bill 1937 (HB 1937) by Mike Villarreal, which established PACE districts in Texas for the first time.  Although cities and counties across the state began the process of setting up PACE districts, the entire process was derailed when the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) created an obstacle for residential PACE programs.  FHFA expressed concerns about the senior lien—that is, if a homeowner with a PACE loan defaults, the repayment of the PACE obligation would take priority over settling the mortgage.  There were also some structural concerns which would have “required the Texas legislature to amend or replace the existing statute.”  This new bill, SB 385, addresses the structural problems and applies to commercial and industrial (rather than residential) property owners, thus removing the senior lien concern from the equation. Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency, On-bill repayment, Texas / Tagged , | Comments are closed

Heat Without Fire: Geothermal For A Cleaner, Sustainable Future In New York City

By: Mark Franks, EDF Energy Research Intern


Hurricane Sandy proved that New York City’s energy system is not up to the challenges of the present day.  And, as we have highlighted before, the city faces some major challenges to reducing dangerous air pollution caused by heavy heating fuels.  One promising solution seeking to significantly reduce NYC’s carbon footprint, improve air quality, and increase grid resiliency during storms is geothermal heat pumps.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called ground source heat pumps the “most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems available.”  Geothermal heat pumps or exchangers, also known as geo-exchange, require no fossil-fuel burning on-site, use 70 percent of their energy from Earth’s renewable sources and are, on average, nearly 50 percent more efficient than gas furnaces.

Last month, I had the honor of watching NYC Mayor Bloomberg sign a bill tasking the New York City Office of Long-Term Planning & Sustainability to study geothermal energy resources and the feasibility of city-wide adoption of geothermal heating and cooling.  As Mayor Bloomberg’s sustainability leadership – in an official capacity at least – comes to an end, his plans to ensure that the city’s mission to find sustainable, cost-effective solutions to combat air pollution are well underway.  Though the geothermal heating and cooling bill is very important, it is only one aspect of the Mayor’s larger PlaNYC effort.

During his speech, Mayor Bloomberg remarked, “So what is geothermal anyway? I am having it installed in the new place I just bought and I know it works and how much it costs but nothing else.”  His words sum up the greatest challenge for geo-exchange yet – lack of awareness.  Geo-exchange technology needs our help to move it out of its prolonged infancy and into the mainstream. Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency, New York / Tagged , | Read 4 Responses

Wyoming’s Energy Strategy A Potential Step Toward Improved Oil And Gas Regulations

Source: Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile

Wyoming is one of the leading energy states in the country. It is the top overall energy exporter in the U.S., the third leading producer of natural gas, and number eight in oil production. In fact, if Wyoming were a country, it would rank tenth in the world in overall energy production.

It makes sense then that Wyoming would want to develop an energy strategy to ensure that these resources are developed wisely. A state that is also home to the nation’s first national park (Yellowstone) and a thriving outdoor recreation and tourism economy would not want one of its leading economic drivers to negatively impact another, or to harm the health of its citizens.

There is strong potential in the strategy released last week by Governor Matt Mead and his staff. The 47 policy prescriptions in the “Leading the Charge” document are broad and varied, but the ones pertaining to oil and gas regulation appear promising. These include:

  • Establishing a strong, scientifically-valid groundwater quality baseline testing program that gives landowners important information about potential impacts from oil and gas drilling.
  • An air quality management strategy and review of state flaring policies that can take into account the pollution problems in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin and seek to make improvements there and across the state.
  • Efforts to carefully examine the potential safe reuse of produced water from energy production.
  • Subjecting the state’s oil and gas regulations to a complete review by a broad group of experts through the nationally respected STRONGER process.
  • A review of state bonding requirements that can ensure well owners have the financial wherewithal to adequately plug wells and reclaim areas where drilling has occurred so the state is not left holding the bag for so-called orphan wells. Read More »
Posted in Natural Gas / Tagged | Read 2 Responses

Is BLM Phoning It In?

Source: Soundcheck-WNYC

Yesterday the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new draft of its so-called “fracking rule.” To be fair, the proposed rule does represent a level of progress compared to sorely outdated rules on the books. But we’re dealing with critical issues here – not the kinds of things we can afford to only get half right.  And unfortunately, “half right” is about all we got here.

The most significant failings of the proposed rule have to do with well integrity – the way an oil or gas well is constructed and operated to minimize risks to the environment and public safety. Proper casing, cementing and pressure management are critical to protecting groundwater resources and the lives of the men and women who work the rigs. The rule takes steps in the right direction, but it doesn’t include nearly the level of detail necessary to ensure casing is set where it’s needed, operators are getting good cement jobs and the whole system is checked for mechanical integrity at critical points in the well development process.

The rule also falls short on chemical disclosure. We’re pleased to see the agency propose the same basic disclosure framework that has already been established by leading states – including requirements that operators disclose all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids (not just chemicals subject to OSHA reporting), and requirements to post the information on a user-friendly, publicly accessible website like FracFocus. But the proposal is far too weak on trade secrets. For the public to have confidence trade secret protections aren’t being abused, there needs to be a clear path for challenging trade secret assertions and policing the system.

Finally, while we recognize that you can’t address every issue in a single rule, it’s still worth noting two areas where agency rules are in glaring need of an overhaul. First, BLM needs to improve its rules for the handling, storage and disposal of the huge volumes of wastewater produced by unconventional oil and gas operations (the proposed rule merely asks operators to submit a plan). Second, BLM needs to adopt requirements to minimize emissions of methane – a highly potent greenhouse gas – and other contaminants that create local and regional air quality problems like they’re seeing in Colorado and Wyoming. There’s long been talk of dealing with methane emissions at BLM, but so far we’ve yet to see action. We hope that changes soon. Read More »

Posted in BLM Methane, Natural Gas / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed