Opinion: New federal laws will help Texans save money, protect planet

Texas is in the throes of a clean energy transition. About one-fourth of our electricity already comes from renewables, we lead the nation in wind power production, and we could soon lead in solar energy as well. Clean energy sources have already saved Texas customers more than $7 billion this year.

Austin-based Wind Energy Transmission of Texas is constructing a substation near Lubbock as part of its high-voltage transmission network in West Texas. (Photo: Austin American-Statesman)
Austin-based Wind Energy Transmission of Texas is constructing a substation near Lubbock as part of its high-voltage transmission network in West Texas. (Photo: Austin American-Statesman)

A new generation of families welcomes energy solutions that take on climate change, make communities less dependent on roller-coaster fossil fuel costs, and provide a stable power grid that takes advantage of growing clean energy resources.

The good news is that new support from Congress, through the recent bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act, can help reduce our power bills and create clean energy jobs. The question facing Texas leaders – including at the city and county level – is how to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Job one is shoring up our energy supply. Power outages cost the U.S. economy more than $70 billion every year. The new federal money will immediately start working to stabilize a power grid that was battered by extreme cold during Winter Storm Uri last year. The initiatives give Texas more than $200 million for weatherization and other strategies that will help prevent outages, make the power grid more resilient, and support thousands of miles of new transmission lines delivering clean, affordable electricity.

These investments and tax credits will build on what is becoming a linchpin of Texas’s economy – the clean energy sector, which employs nearly 240,000 Texas workers in solar, wind, storage and other clean energy jobs. The tax credits include bonuses for businesses that pay a prevailing wage to match the well-paying clean energy jobs that companies such as Tesla, General Motors and Ford are creating here.

For Texas consumers who saw their power bills jump 50 percent last year, help can’t come soon enough. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, more families will be able to purchase energy-efficient appliances, make repairs around their homes and save money on utility bills.  The rebates will cover up to 100 percent of the cost of installing efficient new appliances like heat pumps, water heaters, clothes dryers, stoves and ovens. And new tax credits will cover almost one-third of the costs of installing solar energy systems, and upgrading heating and cooling equipment.

Other tax credits will help pay for community solar projects, with additional credits for those at affordable housing properties and in low-income communities. Grants to help state and local governments adopt the latest building energy codes  could save the average new Texas homeowner $162 a year.

The new federal investments will help advance more rapid development of clean energy technologies, such as large, modern batteries that store electricity generated by solar and wind installations.

Wind power, solar energy and the growing clean energy economy are already helping consumers and creating jobs in our rural communities, like those in west Texas where wind power is burgeoning and solar energy is coming on strong.

Thanks to this federal legislation, rural electric cooperatives that serve 2.5 million homes, businesses and other customers will be eligible for direct support to make necessary investments in clean energy. This will boost resilience, reliability and affordability, in part through clean energy and energy efficiency upgrades.

The Inflation Reduction Act also supports climate-smart agriculture practices, which will help expand opportunities for Texas’ nearly 250,000 farms to be part of the climate solution and be rewarded for their stewardship. Everyone will benefit from more resilient food supplies, stronger rural economies and less pollution.

These unprecedented investments will improve the lives of countless Texans and ensure that our state continues its energy leadership through the 21st century. But Texas leaders must recognize the opportunity, seize the moment and take advantage of the chance to strengthen our energy independence.

Colin Leyden is Texas state director for Environmental Defense Fund.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: New laws spur clean energy and help Texas power grid