A Roundup of Energy, Water, and Climate Bills in the 84th Texas Legislative Session

Source: flickr/Paul Woolrich

We’ve almost made it to the midway point of the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature. As many already know, the Texas Legislature only meets from January to May every other year, so a lot has to get done in these few months.

This midway point is critical because it marks the deadline for Representatives and Senators to file bills, and it signals the rush to the finish line. Once we pass this point, the speed picks up substantially, as do the working hours and pressure.

Most bills that are filed will not make it to the Governor’s desk – for any number of reasons. But it is a good time to check in to see which climate, clean energy, and energy-water nexus bills have been filed this Session. Here’s a look at a few that are likely to rise to the top, and ones we hope will cross the finish line by June 1st.

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Climate Bills

As highlighted in another post, two climate bills, House Bill (HB) 2078 and HB 2080, filed by Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), have the backing of our military advisors because they are related to the implications of climate change on our national security .

Senate Bill (SB) 77 by Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) would require state agencies to create an adaptation plan for climate change impacts. Senator Ellis has filed this bill in the past, and it is important that he continues leading the charge. State agencies that are not developing future resiliency plans to mitigate climate impacts, such as prolonged drought and intensified hurricanes, could face a real struggle when those effects start piling up.

In a similar vein, HB 2571 by Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) would require state agencies to include projections about weather, water availability, and climate variability in their strategic plans, and Rep. Johnson’s HB 2570 would require the state water plan to include the potential effects of climate change and rainfall changes in its analysis. This is a rational approach to protecting the state’s scarce water supply in the face of climate change and prolonged drought.

Clean Energy Bills

A few bad bills have cropped up in this space, including HB 857 by Scott Sanford (R-McKinney), and SB 931 by Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) which would repeal Texas’ successful renewable portfolio standard for wind, and SB 635 by Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), which would cripple the state’s wind policy. Also, HB 1736 by Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) and its companion bill, SB 929 by Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), would hamper energy efficiency in Texas by prohibiting cities from adopting stronger building codes. Considering that all major Texas cities have adopted stronger codes than the state, these bills do far more harm than good. Texas is home to four energy efficiency powerhouse cities which have initiated green building programs, installed new transportation infrastructure, and created jobs, all thanks to their energy efficiency goals.

But there are some good bills, too.

HB 2392 by Rep. Anchia would set up an energy efficiency loan program for existing homes through the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO), which currently only offers low-interest loans for public buildings and non-profit organizations. This program, called Warehouse for Energy Efficiency Loans (WHEEL), is a national program that, at the state level, would enable homeowners to tap into low-cost, large-scale funding for upgrades. Further, this program would allow energy and pollution savings to be counted toward any state implementation plan for a federal emissions reduction program, such as EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP), which will limit – for the first time ever – carbon pollution from existing coal power plants. Similarly, HB 3363 by Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) would enable local governments to adopt residential Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) districts, basically low-interest loans for energy and water upgrades to homes that are paid back on an assessment attached to the property itself. PACE and WHEEL are complementary programs that aim to address the large, untapped market for residential energy and water efficiency upgrades.

Speaking of EPA’s CPP, the agency is expected to propose its final requirements this summer, so this session is the only chance for the Texas Legislature to move before it becomes law (absent a special session). To that end, HB 3069 by Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and its companion SB 1954 by Senator Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen) would direct the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to take advantage of the rule’s expected flexibility and draft a compliance plan for Texas by Texas. On the flip side, HB 3590 by Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) would prohibit the state from complying with the CPP—an unwise move, considering EPA allows states to craft their own plans in order to maximize flexibility, rather than have the Federal Government do it for them.

SB 1284 by Kirk Watson (D-Austin) and its companion HB 3343 by Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) would direct the PUC to promote the development of demand response, an innovative energy management program that rewards individuals and businesses for energy conservation. Further, this bill would task the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages roughly 90 percent of the Texas power grid, to study the impact of this people-centric program and report on its growth. EDF supports this bill because the benefits of demand response are abundant: it gives Texans greater control of their electricity use, provides a pollution-free means to increase reliability on the power grid during times of high electricity demand, reduces the need to use inefficient, polluting power plants, and increases competition in the Texas electric sector.

Water and Energy-Water Bills

Texas is in the midst of a multi-year drought, in some areas the most severe on record, so it’s no surprise that dozens of water bills have been filed. The bills run the gamut—looking at water related to oil and gas production, groundwater conservation districts, drought response, agriculture, and more. The related issues are varied and complex, so I’ll highlight a couple that are directly relevant to clean energy.

SB 78 by Sen. Ellis would involve the state water plan, which is on a five-year planning cycle, including the best science on trends affecting future water availability and use. While it doesn’t say so explicitly, the intent is to ensure that the state water plan includes climate models of water availability, something that has been too political to do in the past, but is critical to truly understanding our future water supply as the climate changes.

HB 3298 by Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) and its companion SB 1907 by Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) would task the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to conduct a study on how to establish a more intelligent, statewide water grid, much like an electric grid, to more effectively manage Texas’ tight water supply.

HB 1088 by Marisa Marquez (D-El Paso) would establishe a joint technical center at the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Texas at San Antonio for studying energy-efficient and technologically-sound desalination, a water-producing technology. Developers in Texas are already pursuing desalination of brackish groundwater at about 100 sites across the state, and seawater desalination is also a state-approved technology, although no plants are up and running yet. This center would be an innovation hub for cutting-edge technologies to produce more potable water.

However, traditional desalination is highly energy-intensive, and, since 90 percent of our energy in Texas comes from fossil-fueled power plants which consume vast amounts of water, desalination is, in turn, highly water-intensive. But, SB 991 by Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) aims to address that by requiring the General Land Office and the TWDB to study the economic and geophysical potential of using wind and solar PV energy to desalinate brackish groundwater, with a plan to add additional renewable technologies for seawater desalination in the study. This is the first step to understanding how low-water-use renewable energy can help alleviate some of the state’s water pressure.

And, another ‘big bang for our buck’ energy-water bill is SB 992 by Sen. Rodriguez, which would authorize electric transmission-and-distribution utilities to partner with a water provider to study the embedded energy in water projects. Nationally, about 4 percent of energy is used for treating and moving water. This study would fill in the lack of data on the true value of the energy-intensity of water and enable these two interconnected sectors to see – in real numbers – how much energy is used by the water sector. The intent is for electric and water utilities to begin planning together and be more efficient with both resources.

We’re Halfway There

As with every legislative session, there is a mix of good and bad, and most bills don’t cross the finish line. The bills highlighted here reflect the biggest opportunities for good and bad policy in the clean energy and climate space in Texas. EDF will be keeping a close eye on all of these bills.

Photo source: flickr/Paul Woolrich

This post originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

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