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Texas Senate
April 24, 2008
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(AUSTIN) — More energy efficient homes and offices and using solar power could be Texas' best chance to reduce energy consumption, according to testimony offered at Thursday's Government Organization Committee meeting. With sky-high fuel prices, governments around the world are looking for ways to reduce energy usage. Experts on energy efficient construction from Texas and around the world told lawmakers that "green" buildings can offset these rising costs.

University of Texas Asst. Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Webber testified other countries and states, like California, have kept electricity cost growth flat through more energy-efficient construction and solar-based power, without compromising economic development. "Conservation is compatible with economic growth," he said.

Erin Keyes, a student of Webber's at UT, participated in a General Land Office study of solar energy generation capacity in the state. Her study concluded that while Texas has an immense capacity to generate solar power, it currently only has about 6.5 megawatts of generating capacity. She attributed this to the relative costs of installing wind versus solar power, since it is four times cheaper to install wind power than the equivalent generation capacity in solar. Keyes testified, however, that costs of wind power installations are rising and solar installation costs are decreasing, so this disparity may disappear in the near future.

One reason Texas has an immense capacity for solar energy, according to ThinkSolar CEO Elmar Niewerth, other than its size, is the amount of sunshine it receives. Niewerth testified that Texas has the highest potential solar energy generation capacity of any state.

Solar power is just one component of more efficient houses and offices, testified Clark Wilson of Green Builders, Inc. Water and energy costs in homes and commercial offices consume more energy than any other source, about 38 percent of total energy costs in the U.S. By building more efficient buildings, Texas can reduce energy costs in a way that encourages efficiency in other areas. Build a home with better insulation, for example, and less energy is needed for climate control, which in turn leads to smaller, more efficient air conditioning equipment, which further reduces energy costs.

One way Texas can encourage more efficient buildings is by subsidizing construction costs, Wilson said. While efficiency saves money in the long run, the initial costs for installation or retrofitting can be high. Solar panels for a residential home can top $30,000. Even selling the excess solar generated energy might not offset initial costs for many years. States that have programs to help home owners and builders access more efficient energy technology cheaply predictably have more solar power capacity. If Texas makes it cheaper to build, buy and install "green" technologies, home owners and builders will find the long-term savings an incentive to move to more efficient technologies, he said.

The Senate Government Organization Committee is chaired by Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston, and consists of Senators Kim Brimer, Glenn Hegar, Mike Jackson, Jane Nelson, John Whitmire and Mario Gallegos.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.