Sierra Club releases Texas Clean Energy Scorecard

Jordan Smith
By Jordan Smith

The Sierra Club's scorecard found many areas of improvement for Texas utilities.

Just five utilities in Texas got a passing grade in the first edition of the Lone Star State’s Clean Energy Scorecard. The report, released by the Sierra Club, graded 77 investor-owned utilities, rural cooperatives, retail electricity providers and municipally-owned utilities for their efforts to invest in renewable energy and implement energy saving initiatives.

Only Austin Energy (80 points), MP2 Energy (71), Denton Municipal Electric (67), CPS (65), and Oncor Electric (63) scored more than 60 points out of a possible 100.

“The scorecard’s findings show that the majority of Texas utilities are not doing enough and are underperforming,” the Sierra Club stated in a press release. “However, the chapter expects to see improvements in 2020.”

According to the Lone Star chapter’s conservation director, Cyrus Reed, “Some of these same companies have told us they are either in the midst of signing big contracts or they intend to do major clean energy investments in the coming months and years— and we expect that Texas consumers will respond and demand clean energy now.”

The scorecard aims to educate consumers. The Sierra Club hopes that if more Texans become aware of the clean energy programs available, they will choose utilities with the best offers and push others who are currently falling behind to improve.

Top performing utility welcomes results

Responding to the scorecard’s findings, CPS Energy, which provides electricity to over 800,000 customers in San Antonio, pointed to its efforts to use more solar power and respond to customer demand for more renewables.

“Stakeholder input historically has been and continues to be a key component of our commitment to provide energy to our community that is secure, safe, resilient, reliable, environmentally conscious, and affordable,” says Seamus Nelson, corporate communication manager at CPS. “Our Flexible Path sees more increases in renewable energy as technology advances to serve our customers in a reliable and affordable manner.”

The Sierra Club’s scorecard wasn’t all good news for CPS, however. The group criticized the utility for its plan to continue generating coal power through 2060.

In addition to looking at each utility’s power generation mix, Sierra Club researchers also examined price incentives for energy efficiency, customers’ overall monthly energy use, support for the transition to electric vehicles, and rebates to fund efficient electrical appliances.

Austin Energy’s position at the top of the list is hardly surprising considering the factors in the Sierra Club’s assessment. Austin, TX, has won recognition on several occasions for its clean energy efforts. In July, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy ranked Austin among the top 10 cleanest cities in the nation. Austin came in ninth place on the study’s list, making it the only city in Texas to make the top 10.

Explaining why Austin Energy came in first place on the scorecard, the Sierra Club notes, “It has the highest scores because of its energy efficiency programs/rebates as well as its renewable energy commitments and many offerings to customers. The utility has also embraced advanced energy codes and green building programs to lower energy demand.”

Proposals for improvements

The Sierra Club presents several suggestions for utilities to consider if they want to improve their clean energy credentials.

Perhaps the most important proposal is for Texas utilities to invest more in large-scale renewables. “Nearly every energy provider in Texas could set a renewable energy goal, work to achieve it, and invest directly in renewable energy projects, but relatively few have,” write the scorecard’s authors. “A few municipal utilities have set specific renewable energy goals, including two that have set a 100% renewable energy goal, but most utilities have not set any goal.”

The Clean Energy Scorecard summary also notes that many utilities failed to report in detail on their energy efficiency programs. As a result, some utilities that offer energy saving measures may not have received credit for them. This was particularly true of the 40 retail electricity providers assessed by the Sierra Club. Although they submitted reports to the Federal Energy Information Administration for their 2018 operations, many failed to mention their energy saving initiatives.

Another major area where more can be done is increased support for electric vehicles. Only two utilities examined in the current scorecard offer incentives to purchase an electric car. The Sierra Club suggests utilities in Texas could introduce initiatives to encourage customers to charge their cars overnight when energy is cheaper and rebates to promote the purchase of home charging stations.

Jordan Smith is a freelance journalist and translator covering issues related to energy, the environment, and politics. His work has appeared on the independent news site Opposing Views, and at the Canadian Labour Institute.

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