TEXAS VIEW: Memo to all Texans: We must conserve energy

THE POINT: Texas must improve incentives to promote reliable, affordable power.

There aren’t many ways to say this: Texans have to do a better job of conserving energy, something we don’t always do well.

Whether it is the extreme cold that shut down critical power sources across the state two winters ago or the blistering 100-degree-plus summer days we’re enduring now, the bottom line is that Texas has an energy problem, a real irony in a state known as an energy-producing capital. But it is also a wake-up call for a growing state that is adding new energy users by the day and needs energy resources to meet burgeoning demand.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s power grid traffic cop, is reminding Texas homes and businesses to conserve power from 2 to 8 p.m. and reduce the risk of rolling blackouts. The reason, ERCOT warns, is that the state faces a “potential reserve capacity shortage with no market solution available.” That’s a way of saying the demand for electricity, such as air conditioners running full blast in 100-degree temperatures, is consuming more power than generators can produce.

As a state, we need to get better at creating incentives to make sure that reliable, affordable power is available from fossil fuel, solar, wind, nuclear or other energy sources in a functioning competitive market. Increasing supply isn’t the only way to increase energy resources. Energy efficiency is a resource, too.

In a series of tweets, energy analyst Doug Lewin of Stoic Energy reminds us of this dynamic. However, he says, the state has to better incentivize energy efficiency and demand response policies that give consumers a way and reason to reduce electricity use at times of high market prices or when grid reliability is at risk. Using financial incentives for consumers to reduce their individual demand on a stressed grid could ease the challenges facing energy producers and the grid by tamping down overuse to free up more electricity for more people.

Long term, energy policy in Texas must support solutions that reduce electricity demand, or at the very least, incentivize energy efficiency. Possible strategies would be to reward customers who reduce their demand for electricity when supply is tight. Another is to incentivize the more rapid deployment of battery storage technologies to provide an energy safety net whenever the grid is under pressure.

This heat wave began more than a week ago and shows no sign of abating soon. Conservation now could get us through this stressful period, but conservation and energy efficiency can’t be last-ditch measures taken only when the grid nears crisis levels. Texas demands reliable, affordable energy to power the state’s economy, and the state must do more to make sure that conservation and energy efficiency measures are part of its economic strategy.

Dallas Morning News