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Why Sierra Club Opposes Statewide Prop 7, and Why You Should Too

By Matt Johnson

Photo by Al Braden

Bad ideas thrive in the darkness, and for most (but not all) Texans, it may seem like there is very little reason to shine a light on this Fall’s election. Polluting special interests are counting on you not showing up in this off-year election, because that would result in them tapping billions of taxpayer dollars for expensive, polluting, and unneeded power plants.

Wait, there’s an election in 2023? Yes. There are actually 14 ballot measures to amend the Texas constitution (full list here) that every Texas voter has the chance to approve or reject. Some of them have very high stakes, like Proposition 7.

Sierra Club urges Texans to vote NO on Prop 7, which has a misleading title of the “Texas Energy Fund.” It’s even more misleading when you read the description:

...providing for the creation of the Texas energy fund to support the construction, maintenance, modernization, and operation of electric generating facilities.

Sounds okay, right? We need more power, right? Well, what this constitutional amendment would do, if approved, is create a low-interest loan and grant program designed to subsidize what will most likely be new or expanded fracked gas power plants and little else.

The authors of the legislation that created Prop 7 were clever in making it sound like any technology that could be “dispatchable” could qualify (dispatchable basically refers to power that could be used at any time). They were also very clever in framing the messaging of legislation around the subject of grid reliability. But the messaging is misleading. What they don’t tell you is that they have been pushing a pro-fossil fuel subsidies and anti-renewables agenda, despite the fact that most energy analysts have concluded that solar and wind power strengthen the grid and help keep electric bills low. They also like to downplay the fact that fossil fuel infrastructure was heavily to blame for the power outages during Winter Storm Uri.

When given the opportunity to include one of the newest and most reliable technologies, energy storage (batteries), the authors of the legislation and constitutional amendment specifically made sure that storage resources could not apply for the fund. Instead, the authors and legislature set aside at least $5 billion for the initial fund from taxpayer surplus to create an incentive in the market for building new and expanded power plants –- most likely more gas. Thus, passage of Prop 7 would create a taxpayer-backed subsidy for one set of players and likely one major technology –- fracked gas.

Our grid challenges in Texas are not the fault of solar and wind. Our electricity demand is being fueled in large part by extreme temperatures driven by climate change – a slew of new gas plants will only make this problem worse. Punishing weather combined with inefficient residential and commercial buildings and appliances, along with new investments in data storage and blockchain technology, and a growing population all make for a perfect storm of stress on the electric grid. While we will continue to need all available current resources to keep the lights on for the next few years, we can and should focus on more affordable, reliable, and cleaner energy resources to maintain a strong grid.

Those clean, affordable, reliable solutions just happen to be ready to launch today (as opposed to the several years it would take to construct new power plants); they are energy efficiency, residential and small business demand response programs (that pay you for conserving energy, not bitcoin miners!), and updated building codes. Bills to increase use of those resources made progress in the last legislative session, but weren’t enacted because polluting special interests and electric utilities used their influence with state lawmakers to stop them.

Voters have a choice in what energy future we want this November. Texans should reject Prop 7 because we don’t need to spend taxpayer dollars to subsidize wealthy companies building polluting gas plants that will only create greater problems in the future. And after you come back from the ballot box, please write to your state legislators and Gov. Abbott to demand better solutions for Texas families.

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