Most Texas energy providers flunk clean energy scorecard

TEXAS — The Sierra Club last week announced its first-ever “Texas Clean Energy Scorecard” to assess how well electricity providers in Texas are doing at providing and investing in clean energy.

The answer: not great.

After reviewing around 80 companies on a 100-point scale, just five — three municipal utilities, one retail electric provider and one investor-owned utility — received a score over 60. Others failed badly, with scores in the 20s or teens.

For the purposes of scoring, Sierra Club broke the Lone Star state into seven regions, with Presidio County grouped with 28 other border (or near-border) counties. Cyrus Reed, interim director and conservation director for the Lone Star chapter of the environmental group, said there weren’t huge differences in regional scoring. All seven regions did about the same (poorly), with just a couple exceptions, including Austin Energy, which scored an 80 after Sierra Club said the city-owned utility had “embraced advanced energy codes and green building programs.”

Reed wasn’t exactly surprised with the results. “Texas has historically relied on gas and coal,” he said. And while he said Texas electric providers have started to shift towards renewables in recent years, “there’s a lot of catching up to do.”

The biggest disappointment, Reed said, was that many providers offering consumers “green” options for electricity were simply purchasing renewable energy credits (rather than investing or producing more green energy themselves). “It doesn’t actually really add to renewable energy development in the state,” he said.

But like any good grader, Reed stressed that the progress the companies made over time mattered more than their current scores. He was hopeful that consumers, policymakers and business leaders will continue pushing the industry in a greener direction — especially as many companies make public promises to go cleaner.

“The promises out there still gives us hope,” he said.

Reed said Sierra Club hasn’t done similar databases in other states. He directed The Big Bend Sentinel to studies by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The group — which has released state energy scorecards on a near-yearly basis since at least 2006 — puts Texas near the middle of the pack in its 2019 report, with a ranking of 26 out of the 50 states.

To assess how Texas energy companies were doing, Sierra Club pulled 2018 data for their latest report. The next report — to be released around May 2020 — will pull from 2019 data and will show how state energy providers are progressing, Reed said.

It’s not all bad news for Texas, though. Researchers at Rice University last year said the state, which has plenty of windy and sunny places, is well-positioned to kick coal power. And while Texas could have scored better, Reed stressed that the state has a more complicated energy supply than most, with a mix of power cooperatives, municipal utilities and for-profit electric companies.

Right now, about 20 percent of the state’s power comes from renewables. Reed expects that number will continue to climb.

“It’s still limited, but it’s increasing,” he said of these figures. “The future looks bright.”