As we established in previous posts, electricity conservation is crucial in Texas summers to reduce strain on the power grid and avoid rolling blackouts across the state. Of course, saving energy is important year round. One area where Texas can make great strides in energy conservation is natural gas.
In 1999, Texas was the first state to establish an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) for programs offered by electric utilities. However, in the area of Natural Gas Energy Efficiency (EE) Programs, our state is lagging. While there are some great programs for Austinites to save on their gas bill, most people in the rest of the state aren’t so lucky. There are 32 states across the country with legislation requiring programs and the majority of these states have programs for all socioeconomic backgrounds. Texas, on the other hand, limits most of its programs to low-income customers.
Natural gas, despite its edge over oil and coal due to its lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions, is ultimately still a fossil fuel, which means that it is a limited resource that harms our environment. And Texas is certainly doing its part to add greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere from natural gas consumption. In 2010, Texas accounted for over 14% of all natural gas consumption in the United States. Natural gas heats 43% of Texas homes, resulting in 10.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year (nearly as much CO2 as is released by Rhode Island’s residential, industrial, transportation, and electric power sectors combined) according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Natural gas is partly obtained through hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a highly controversial gas extraction method that involves drillers injecting water, sand, and innumerable chemicals at high pressures underground to break through rock and access the natural gas. This process takes a heavy toll on regional water quality and surrounding ecosystems, in part due to the huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that the process releases as the fuel is pulled from the ground.
So, despite being cleaner burning and more domestically available than its fossil fuel counterparts, natural gas still has greater environmental detriments than truly renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Because of this, it is crucial to regulate usage of this fossil fuel and stop excessive and unnecessary natural gas consumption.
Fortunately, many companies have taken steps towards creating EE Programs. Texas Gas Service has implemented a conservation program that assists residents, companies, and restaurants by offering rebates and giving monetary rewards for a variety of actions, such as natural gas furnace tune-ups, dryers, and vehicles. Homeowner Suzi Sands received $370 through these rebates for her attic insulation and duct sealing. She was one of many to receive money; the Texas Gas Service provides more than $1 million in rebates each year to qualified customers.
Another company, Atmos Energy, has programs in place for low-income residents and senior citizens, allowing them to receive energy saving products and services like gas heater tune-ups, gas piping inside the home, insulation for the floor and attic, and an energy savings kit. Sadly, not every company is as dedicated to conservation and efficiency; many offer nothing but energy saving tips to customers but take no action themselves.
In 2009, the Railroad Commission initiated Docket No. 9900: “Establishment of a Natural Gas Conservation and Energy Efficiency Program”. This Docket called for a conservation program modeled after the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) Winter Savings Program. Despite a degree of positive response, it was ultimately shot down, partially because the industry companies, such as CenterPoint Energy and Texas Gas Services, found flaws in the model (surprise!) as this type of program encourages customers to use less of their product, i.e. natural gas. However, there are some clear benefits to implementing a statewide program, including its ease of use and full customer participation, counteracting the negative non-participant aspects.
So here’s the bottom line: Texas needs to join the 32 other states that have required EE programs for natural gas because, given the current state of the environment, fossil fuel use must be checked. The statewide EE program should emulate the Texas Gas Service, allowing rebates for customers switching to natural gas (since it is the cleanest burning of the fossil fuels) and providing incentives for customers to cut back on their natural gas use. And these beneficiary programs should available to everyone - people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and all types of companies– in order to truly make significant changes.
Read more comments in response to Docket No. 9900 here.