Letter from the Chair: November

Some of you might have noticed a large change in the Force this last week. I know you are tired of any conversation that has the word “election” in it and want it all to stop, so I will keep this short and only focus on the very narrow area of how the election outcome might impact our great work here in Texas.

Here are the simple facts. President-Elect Trump could enact all of his campaign promises. He could scrap the United States' participation in the Paris Climate Accord simply by refusing to commit to the non-binding commitments of carbon emissions reductions. He could greatly minimize the influence of the EPA, effectually lowering all planned and current emissions standards thereby allowing unrestrained expansion of coal fired power plants, fracking, and construction of pipelines anywhere economic conditions suggest they should go. He could strip legislation that has and would protect the environment on all Federal lands. Maybe all of these scenarios happen or maybe they won't. Nothing so far has been simple in this year’s Presidential Election.

Let’s just say that it all happens. What would it mean for us in Texas? I am not convinced that a lot would change. We in Texas already experience one of the least receptive climates for advancing Energy or Environmental agendas. Texas provides no real incentives or rebates for investors or individuals to do anything more than the minimum code requirement. Some local incentives exist but are very limited in number and influence. So, I do not think it will get worse for us here in Texas. I realize that is not great news, but it is also not horrible news, for us. I do think that the rest of the country might soon look like Texas with respect to the challenges faced by environmentally focused individuals, companies, and organizations. The new National norm may become the current Texas norm. Other areas of the country may face the challenges we have learned to acknowledge and work to overcome. It will be a difficult transition for regions that historically have seen more progress on Energy and Environmental issues, but let’s stay focused on Texas.

The good news is that even though the Texas norm has real challenges, we have still managed great advancements with respect to educating elected officials, the business community, and others about the benefits of green building: building sustainably saves money, offers employees and home owners healthier environments, and offers employers a workforce with increased productively and higher retention rates. And, let’s not forget the positive impact these building practices have on the environment: less pollution in our soil, water, and air.

Is there more to do? Absolutely. Are we making plans so that we continue to be agents of change? Most definitely. How are we doing this? I am glad you asked.

Our Advocacy Committee is working on refining our messaging, building consensus with other professional organizations, setting dates to meet locally with our local and State representatives (tentative date of December 12, 2016), and planning for our trip to meet with our State Representatives in Austin (February 28th, 2017). In essence, the election results have not changed our plan-to-action.

So what are our big advocacy drivers this legislative session? A number of opportunities come to the forefront and they are issues that can be quickly impacted through effective legislation:

  • Schools - When we look internally within Texas, too often, we see that children and teachers lack healthy environments that foster learning, so that these children can become our future leaders. 
  • Texas Specific Incentives (Carrot & Stick) - We see that many construction projects are still not implementing healthy building practices and off-the-shelf energy efficient technologies in the homes and offices of the majority of Texans. 
  • Access - Environmental justice and equity are the primary drivers for our continued work toward ensuring improved access to best practices for everyone.

Your participation is critical, just like you may have noticed this past week.

Give me a call at 713-9857-6499 or email me at [email protected] so I can get you plugged in.

David MacLean

Houston office buildings turning greener

Author: Katherine Feser

New energy-efficient buildings lead to No. 4 ranking on list of 30 largest office markets in the United States

The nation's energy capital is becoming more energy efficient when it comes to office space.

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Energy Efficiency In Buildings - Houston, TX


Private Sector Leadership for Energy Efficiency in Houston, Texas

The state of Texas is lagging far behind in providing the appropriate incentives for energy efficiency investment. Energy efficiency is the cheapest source of power, costing one-half to one-third less than convention power resources (Figure 1). Further, energy efficiency is a proven, cost effective method to reduce operating costs, create jobs, improve air quality and lower water consumption. Without the appropriate incentives for energy efficiency investment, the cost of doing business will increase significantly as new transmission and distribution infrastructure, as well as generation, will need to be built to supply this inefficient market. CenterPoint’s transmission and distribution charges have doubled between 2003 and 2014 and now make up over 50% of the bill, up from 30% in 2003.

The current issue for Texas are the significant hurdles that stymie  growth of this low-cost money saving option. One of the most pressing issues is with the energy efficiency resource standard (EERS). The EERS sets the incentive dollars that can be spent by utilities for customers to invest in energy efficiency upgrades. The state of Texas was the first state to pass an EERS. It was passed in 1999 and was seen as a great opportunity for the state to reduce power consumption thereby improving grid stability and reducing costs of doing business in the state. Unfortunately, the state has since lagged behind other states in the EERS and now has the lowest goals in the country (Figure 2).

Without an increase in energy efficiency the state will continue to use a significant amount of its water resources for energy production. Approximately 430 million gallons of water is withdrawn per day to cool Texas power plants[1]. Without this water the power plants would not be able to operate and there would be significant electricity reliability and capacity issues across the state. In 2011, we saw the very close tie between power production and water. During the drought of 2011, many power plants along the Brazos River reduced operations or completely went offline.  A very low cost opportunity to reduce power demand, and subsequently water use, is increasing the energy efficiency of buildings. For example, the residents of the City of Houston consume approximately 24 million megawatt-hour (MWh) per year. It is anticipated that with an energy savings goal of 20% achieved through energy efficiency, the City would realize a 4.8 million MWh reduction in power consumed. The water savings is estimated to be approximately 2 billion gallons[2].
In 2008 a study was released by Itron[3], at the request of the legislature, which looked at the feasibility and potential opportunity for energy efficiency across the state IOUs. The study led to the passage of legislation SB 1125 and the development of PUCT requirements that have resulted in the current state of EERS goals. The study covered energy efficiency feasibility out to 2018. It is now an ideal time to develop a new study to determine opportunities for energy efficiency beyond 2018.

The 2017 Legislative session will be ramping up soon. It is a good time to get in touch with your local representative and ask them about supporting energy efficiency programs for Texas.

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What Leads to Investment in Resilient Power?

Author: Gavin Dillingham, PhD

Will Hurricane Matthew lead to greater investment in resilient power infrastructure, specifically combined heat and power? The record is mixed as to how communities and states respond to massive power outages caused by natural disasters. After Hurricane Sandy the state of New York invested $1.4 billion to hardening the grid2, Con-Ed the investor owned-utility committed $1 billion to infrastructure upgrades3 and the PSE&G utility in New Jersey has created Energy Strong, a program to invest $3.8 billion in infrastructure over a 10 year period4. These are just a handful of examples of the investment in grid infrastructure and combined heat and power in the aftermath of the $71 billion hurricane. In contrast, after Hurricane Ike, where 95% of CenterPoint’s 2.6 million Texas customers lost power, many for more than a couple of weeks, little investment has been done. The biggest focus has been on trimming trees and some infrastructure upgrades that helps to better track outages and reroute power when lines go down. Will North Carolina and Florida go the route of its northern neighbors or take a different route?

It is important that more attention gets paid to why there is such a divergence in how state and local governments respond to natural disasters. A significant issue is the level of uncertainty regarding the likelihood and risk of natural disasters happening in the future. Will it be flooding, drought, extreme heat, more major hurricanes? Investing in resources and technologies to adapt to and deal with any of these contingencies can be expensive and politically costly if the wrong path is taken. For example, a City invests infrastructure to mitigate flooding and then falls into a 10 year drought. Voters may not be happy and legislators and council members may soon find themselves out of office.

There is uncertainty as to what the next major disaster will be and with limited resources and shrinking coffers, choosing which direction to take can be difficult. Planners and policy makers are dealing with multiple possible outcomes without any known relative probabilities. The uncertainty as to what climate will look like over this time makes it difficult to decide where to place the investment for optimal adaptability over time. Therefore, it is important that we place greater focus on this decision making process that drives investment in adaptive and resilient infrastructure. Decision making is driven by both the internal characteristics of a state or community and by the external activity of other states and the federal government. As we look into the decision making process, elements that should be considered are resources of the state, ideology of the state, recent climate related activity, as well as factors outside of the state, such as federal regulatory and policy activity and planning and investment activity of similar states. States will look to others to see what their neighbors are doing who are facing similar problems. Network development and learning among states could be a key factor in reducing uncertainty, as well as providing political cover. Finally, how do states see these disasters impacting their economic output and competitiveness? Is there a competitive advantage for investing in certain infrastructure and reducing risks relative to other states? What is the risk to their economy if they do not take specific actions to reduce climate impacts? If we want to see the right investment in the right places, it is important that these questions are asked and effort is made to find the right answers.

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