a better bluebonnet?
Bluebonnet Electric serves 80,000 customers in a 14-county area along Austin’s eastern edge. The electric co-op’s service area is growing rapidly, and the member-owned utility expects to add 40,000 more customers by 2020, mostly in new subdivisions along the State Highway 130 corridor. Bluebonnet does not generate its own power, but instead purchases electricity from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and resells it to homes and businesses along the co-op’s power lines.
Bluebonnet has wisely planned to meet this future growth through energy efficiency, setting a remarkably ambitious goal of reducing overall demand 20% by 2020. However, the co-op has yet to invest in programs promoting efficiency or renewables, other than paying for LCRA-generated wind energy under its existing contract. Instead, Bluebonnet hopes to meet this goal primarily through a ‘smart grid’ with meters that allow customers to monitor and adjust their energy use as needed through their cell phones or personal computers.
Clean Water Action agrees that empowering people to control their own electricity use makes sense. However, this strategy needs to be complemented by increased investments in clean energy alternatives and a more aggressive efficiency strategy. Bluebonnet’s efficiency programs currently lag behind those of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC). Unlike Austin and San Antonio (but like PEC), Bluebonnet also does nothing to help its member-owners invest in rooftop solar.
With thousands of new homes and businesses soon to be constructed in its service area, Bluebonnet could also provide incentives for more energy-efficient building standards. Because of the fossil-fuel power plants that heat and cool them, buildings consume more energy and are responsible for more air pollution than cars and trucks.
Clean Water Action encourages its members in the Bluebonnet Electric Co-op service area to contact the co-op’s leadership and ask for a genuine commitment to energy efficiency and renewables. As a co-op, Bluebonnet’s customers are also its owners and should have the final say in how it is operated.