Houston SkylineTexas’ four largest metropolitan areas appear on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the 25 metro areas with the largest numbers of buildings in 2008 that earned the EPA’s Energy Star rating for energy efficiency.

Houston, the nation’s sixth largest metro area in population, was third on the EPA’s list of areas with the most Energy Star buildings, outranked only by Los Angeles in first place and San Francisco in second.

Dallas-Fort Worth, which has the fourth largest metro population, was fifth on the Energy Star list.

Austin, whose metro population is 36th-biggest, ranked No. 13 on the list of metro areas with the most Energy Star buildings.

San Antonio, with a metro population that is in 28th place, had the 16th-largest number of buildings with the federal efficiency recognition.

Houston had 145 buildings with 58.3 million square feet of floorspace that qualified for the Energy Star rating last year; Dallas-Fort Worth, 126 buildings with 32.4 million square feet; Austin, 77 buildings with 10.9 million square feet, and San Antonio, 56 buildings with 9.8 million square feet.

Commercial buildings, schools, hospitals and industrial facilities are among the structures that may qualify for the Energy Star, the EPA’s highest recognition for energy efficiency.

Announcing the 2008 list recently, the EPA said that all told, more than 3,800 buildings and plants received the recognition last year, “representing savings of more than $1 billion in utility bills and more than 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.”

The new EPA administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said in the announcement that Energy Star buildings “typically use 35 percent less energy and emit 35 percent less greenhouse gases than average buildings.”

Several recent developments point to a bigger building-efficiency push in Texas this year.

Under the massive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic stimulus bill signed by President Barack Obama last month, the State Energy Conservation Office of Texas (SECO) could receive about 100 times more federal money this year for various energy-efficiency and conservation programs, including efficiency-aiming retrofits for buildings, the Austin American-Statesman’s Asher Price reported.

According to his blog post, legislative testimony put the possible total for SECO this year at an estimated $233.8 million, compared to the $1.8 million to $2.5 million that Texas has typically received in recent years.

An analysis by the advocacy group Environment Texas indicated that Texas must adopt stricter building-code standards for energy efficiency to qualify for at least $200 million of the stimulus money.

San Antonio moved in that direction last week when its City Council approved new codes for greater efficiency in energy and water use. Anton Caputo of the San Antonio Express-News reported:

The new rules, which the City Council passed by a unanimous vote, call for all new buildings starting in 2010 to be 15 percent more energy-efficient than currently required.

That would jump to a target of 30 percent by 2012, with a goal of carbon-free buildings by 2030.

“Carbon-free buildings” could be powered by onsite renewable energy systems, like wind or solar, that don’t produce any greenhouse gases.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is considering numerous efficiency-boosting measures, including SB 16, by Republican Sen. Kip Averitt of Waco, which would mandate a stricter building code statewide that would reportedly be adequate to qualify Texas for the stimulus money.

As previously reported in TCN Journal, the election of Rep. Joe Straus as House speaker in January was an especially good omen for efficiency legislation’s chances during the 2009 session. Straus, a San Antonio Republican, had previously earned a reputation as the leading champion of energy efficiency in the House, authoring an omnibus energy efficiency bill that became law in 2007.

In Washington, meanwhile, the pro-efficiency message continues to be trumpeted in the aftermath of the stimulus bill’s passage. The non-profit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy this week called for a federal energy-efficiency target as it increased its estimate of utility-bill savings from new initiatives to reward consumers and businesses for cutting electricity and natural gas use. The council updated its previous savings estimate of $144 billion to $168.6 billion on the basis of 2008 data.

Not everyone is so enamored of energy efficiency, however. Earlier this month, the subscription online news organization ClimateWire (some of whose articles are now also available free on the New York Times’ new Energy & Environment Web page) reported that the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, representing “developers of office buildings and other commercial properties,” had issued a report arguing that making buildings more energy-efficient “won’t come cheap, and it could take decades to pay off.”

– Bill Dawson

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