Opinion: Texas Gas Programs Not a Solution to Climate Change: The main provider of natural gas to the Austin area has a profoundly flawed climate policy, and is spending substantial funds on greenwashed conservation programs – Columns

It’s called greenwashing: Selling products and services with false or exaggerated claims about environmental protection and sustainability.

All consumers, environmentally conscious or not, are exposed to false or misleading statements in the marketplace. However, most of the claims are not mistakenly linked to the planet’s survival, and most of the claims are not made on an electricity bill that consumers cannot pay.

For many years, Texas Gas Service (TGS), which serves 95% of residential natural gas customers in Austin as well as 16 other cities in central Texas, has siphoned millions of dollars from fee payers to use on green energy saving programs. Some of that money is nothing more than glorified marketing.

The general intent in conservation programs is to conserve resources such as natural gas, electricity and water at the same or lower cost than they are provided. Sometimes this intention is overlooked. For example, a program for low-income programs is implemented as a social benefit. But in general, conservation is supposed to save taxpayers money while benefiting the environment and creating local jobs.

The gas company plans to spend up to $ 5.5 million on frivolous maintenance programs over the next three years.

• TGS will give price payers up to $ 325 to replace an existing gas tumble dryer with a new “efficient” gas tumble dryer. In most cases, the tiny savings amount to a payback period of up to 248 years. Although the program does not save any significant amount of energy, it does enable the gas company to maintain its market share for this device with tariff funds.

• TGS grants discounts for energy-saving “instantaneous water heaters” in households. However, the extremely high costs and maintenance effort mean that most devices do not pay for themselves over their service life. These may be suitable for businesses that use large amounts of hot water, but not for most homes.

• The gas company also gives discounts on efficient central stoves. The cost is so high that it will not amortize for the life of the device. This device is intended for use in extremely cold climates in the northern United States and Canada. Installing them in Austin is a bit like installing the world’s most efficient and expensive air conditioner in Alaska.

Conservation isn’t the only example of the company’s greenwashing. TGS has been under considerable pressure to reduce its CO2 emissions. At the request of Austin City Council, TGS commissioned a report detailing the benefits and availability of renewable natural gas from sources such as landfill and sewage plant emissions.

The report makes exaggerated claims about the availability of renewable gas sources, most of which are underutilized anyway because of their staggeringly high cost. At best, the report can only be viewed as good intentions. At worst, it can be viewed as a greenwashing distraction to save time. In anticipation of questionable renewable gas pilot programs, more substantial measures could be delayed.

Austin City Council, the gas company’s primary regulator, has the power to cut funding for these flawed conservation programs. It’s time to do something else.

Let’s take the wasted conservation money devoted to green-washed marketing and implement a plan to help the poor with their bills. Let’s take the money that’s earmarked for things like dryers with a payback period of 248 years and let’s fund pragmatic research on renewable energies. Let’s take the wasted money and give some of it back to the installment payers, who have already been hit by the council-approved rate increases by the Texas Gas Service (which have increased by around 25% since 2019).

Funds for conservation and environmental programs must be spent carefully. Like fossil fuels, money is a non-renewable resource.

Paul Robbins is an environmental activist and consumer advocate who has been involved in energy issues for over four decades. Since 1995 he has been the editor of the Austin Environmental Directory.

The Chronicle welcomes submissions of opinion articles on any topic from the community. For guidelines and tips, see austinchronicle.com/contact/opinion.

Comments are closed.