HB 1629, expanding the state’s energy efficiency program, is set on the House General State Calendar for today, Tuesday, May 3.

HB 1629 would increase the goals-and the cost-of the state’s energy efficiency program. While energy efficiency is good, expanding Texas’ program administered at the Public Utility Commission is not currently the best way to achieve it.

Market-based energy efficiency has been a key part of America’s and Texas’ economic growth because it has made electricity less expensive so that we can use more of it to make us healthier and wealthier. To the contrary, Texas’ energy efficiency program seems designed to make electricity more expensive so that we will use less of it.

The expense of the state’s program is borne by consumers. Since 2002, Texas consumers have paid $591.1 million tosupport the state’s energy efficiency program. The estimated 2010 cost of the program was $114.8 million, which will substantially increase in future years due to the PUC’s recent expansion of the program. These costs are added to consumer’s electricity bill each month.

Now is not the time to heap even more government-mandated costs on Texas consumers.

Additionally, it is doubtful that the state’s program is actually efficient. Our recent study examining the system, Energy Efficiency: Is Texas Getting Its Moneys Worth?, by Robert J. Michaels, Ph.D., found that “when reasonable assumptions are applied to the Public Utility Commission’s data, the potential returns of Texas’ energy efficiency program range from 86.3 percent to -11.3 percent. There is simply no way, given the existing data and the methodology employed by the PUCT, to properly determine the efficiency-or inefficiency-of the state’s energy efficiency program.”

This should be no surprise to anyone, since energy efficiency has been achieved successfully in the private sector for centuries, and continues today. A government program that mandates technologies and practices while forcing consumers to pay for them is not likely to be successful.

As noted, the existing program was just expanded last year by the PUC, and will likely double the cost of the existing program within a few years. With costs rising and doubt about the program’s effectiveness, now is not the time to expand the program and increase consumers’ electricity bills. Instead, the Legislature should require the PUC to thoroughly investigate the current program to determine whether it collects the necessary data and uses the proper methodology to even make a proper judgment of its efficiency.

We must not fall into the trap of believing that we use too much energy. This is driven by false claims that energy use hurts the environment. The truth is that over the last 40 years while energy use has significantly increased, so has air quality dramatically improved. The goal of energy efficiency should be to use less energy at less cost for existing uses so that we can use more energy to further improve public health and safety.

Instead of expanding the program, the PUC should be directed to thoroughly review it. If this happens, the data is likely to show that the free market-rather than HB 1629-is the best way for Texan’s to reduce their energy cost and improve the economy.

-Bill Peacock