In ERCOT—you know, the electric grid operator for the state—the “r” stands for reliability.
For the 400,000 Texans left without power at some point today, that wasn’t much consolation. With freezing temperatures and high energy demands, the grids couldn’t deliver. In response to what he called an “unprecedented demand” on the grid, that well known conservation-advocate Gov. Rick Perry asked in a statement that “businesses and residents to conserve electricity to minimize the impact of this event.” That’s nice.
The thing is, Texas has rarely made conservation a priority. Most of our programs to encourage alternative and renewable energy were came from federal stimulus money. With those dollars gone—and with nothing coming in from the state—Texas barely has any programs to encourage conservation.
The stimulus offered a wealth of programs on energy efficiency. Chief among them was LoanSTAR; the program offered revolving loans to school districts and government agencies to help them retrofit their buildings. With over $289 million in stimulus money, there was a lot of available cash for energy efficient insulation and the like. The State Energy Conservation Office, which runs the programs, won’t be seeing numbers like that again. The Senate draft budget puts $79 million into the agency. That’s more than the state put in last year, but don’t expect much retrofitting any time soon.
When it comes to alternative energy marketing and education, both the state and federal dollars see giant cuts. Overall the program would only 29 percent of what it got last year, according to the Senate draft budget. Federal grants to help rural areas use renewable energy are gone as well. And of course, gone are the billions of federal dollars to help weatherize homes and make them more efficient.
Of course, it’s not lawmakers’ faults that stimulus money was a one-time deal. But without it, we’re left with a state the provides few programs to encourage energy efficiency. And with a grid faltering, it’s likely we’ll keep hearing calls to be efficient and conserve energy. We just won’t hear much about how to do it.
Wednesday’s blackouts ended around 2 p.m. but there are already reports that Thursday may bring much of the same. The Texas power grid is one of the three major grids in the country, and if we start seeing more cold days and power outages, the calls for conservation will likely get louder. But when it comes to conservation, lawmakers want to protect their most valuable resource—dollars.