Texas Coalition for Affordable Power http://tcaptx.com Make a Powerful Choice™ Fri, 22 May 2015 22:16:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Report: “Demand Response” Holds Key to $200 Million in Electric Savings http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/report-demand-response-holds-key-to-200-million-in-electric-savings http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/report-demand-response-holds-key-to-200-million-in-electric-savings#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 22:11:49 +0000 http://tcaptx.com/?p=11396 SPEERMore than $200 million — that’s the amount all Texans could have saved if a modest number of them had reduced their electric consumption for only five days in 2012 and 2013, according to a new report.

An advocacy group known as SPEER (also known as South-central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource) found in a report released this week that several expensive-to-operate power plants could have remained idle if some Texans had reduced their power demand during a few hours on certain key days.  Avoiding the use of those expensive-to-operate power plants would lead to substantial overall electricity savings, according to the report.

SPEER conducted its analysis by reviewing historical data provided by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the organization that operates the state’s primary electricity grid.

“Data available from ERCOT allowed us to accurately estimate the savings for these two recent mild years,” said Doug Lewin, SPEER Executive Director.  “Savings in more extreme weather years such as 2011 would be significantly higher.”

SPEER notes that billions of dollars have been spent on automated meters that — at least potentially — could allow Texans to control their electricity consumption during key periods. But customer participation in “demand response” programs to make use of that functionality remains modest.

Two bills considered during the ongoing legislative session would have helped promote the sort of programs championed by SPEER. They are House Bill 3343 by Rep. Sylvester Turner and Senate Bill 1284 by Sen. Kirk Watson. Both bills are stuck in committee and appear dead.

SPEER advocates for the creation of energy efficiency products in Texas and Oklahoma. The organization’s new report can be found here.

– R.A. Dyer

 

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Memorial Day Weekend: Sales Tax Holiday on Energy Efficiency Products http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/memorial-day-weekend-sales-tax-holiday-on-energy-efficiency-products http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/memorial-day-weekend-sales-tax-holiday-on-energy-efficiency-products#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 20:10:48 +0000 http://tcaptx.com/?p=11387 EnergyStarLogoAttention Texas shoppers: there’s good news this weekend for anyone in the market for an energy efficiency product.

The Texas Comptroller’s office has announced a sales tax holiday through May 25th on certain energy efficiency products. Those products that qualify will have an “Energy Star” logo affixed to them. The tax holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. (after midnight) on Saturday, May 23.

You can purchase any number of qualifying items under the sales tax holiday — and there’s also no requirement for an exemption certificate. Qualifying products include:

  • Air conditioners priced at $6,000 or less
  • Refrigerators priced at $2,000 or less
  • Ceiling fans
  • Incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs
  • Clothes washers
  • Dishwashers
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Programmable thermostats with Energy Star label.

The Energy Star logo may appear on the appliance, the packaging or the Energy Guide label. The logo means the product meets strict energy efficiency guidelines, set by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Click here for more information.

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84th Texas Legislative Update: Live Bills, Dead Bills and Those In Between http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/84th-texas-legislative-update-live-bills-dead-bills-and-those-in-between http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/84th-texas-legislative-update-live-bills-dead-bills-and-those-in-between#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 21:38:05 +0000 http://tcaptx.com/?p=11331 Texas CapitolJust a few weeks remain in the 84th legislative session, and with each passing day more bills die. We’re keeping an eye on the process. Here’s a quick update about a few bills of interest to energy consumers — and whether those bills are alive, dead or somewhere in between.

Keeping A Promise to Ratepayers  Texans for years have paid a small assessment on their electric bills to finance rate discounts for those of limited means. In 2013 the Texas Legislature voted to end those assessments and to discontinue the discount program after the last funds were spent.  Legislation by Rep. Sylvester Turner, House Bill 1101, continues that promise by ensuring that dollars already collected for the rate discounts are spent for that purpose.  The legislation, which is supported by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, has been adopted by the Texas House and will be considered Tuesday, May 19th, in the Senate Finance Committee.

Worst-Named Agency? It’s been said that the Texas Railroad Commission is the worst-named agency in the state. The agency has absolutely no authority over railroads, but rather oversees the oil and gas industry and regulates home gas utility service. But House Bill 1106,  which would have changed the agency’s name to the Texas Energy Commission, stalled in the House Calendars Committee and died.

No support for Hike & Bike Trails – Senate Bill 1444, by Sen. Larry Taylor, could have facilitated the use of utility right-of-way for the creation public hike-and-bike trails. But the legislation, which would have provided a relatively inexpensive method to create more public recreational areas, has stalled in the Senate. Companion legislation, House Bill 2184 by Rep. Rick Miller, also stalled in the House. Both bills now appear dead.

Minimum Use Fees to Continue? A savvy electric consumer – even one that pays attention to price and contract terms – can still get stuck paying unexpected fees. Perhaps the most annoying are “minimum use” fees. These punish ratepayers who try to save money by reducing their electric use.  Rep. Sylvester Turner proposed House Bill 2254 to prohibit minimum use fees. Unfortunately it stalled in the House State Affairs committee, where it should be now pronounced dead.

Cutting the Lights to the NSA? House Bill 3916, by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, prohibits cities from providing water or electric utility service to a federal agency that “that is involved in the routine surveillance or collection and storage of bulk telephone or e-mail records … concerning any citizen of the United States.”  House Bill 3916 never made it out of the House State Affairs Committee. So, lights out for HB 3916.

– R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.

 

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ERCOT, “Peaker Net Margin” and Electric Prices: Why It Matters http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/ercot-peaker-net-margin-and-electric-prices-why-it-matters http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/ercot-peaker-net-margin-and-electric-prices-why-it-matters#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 18:17:55 +0000 http://tcaptx.com/?p=11303 Ercot_logo

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas oversees the state’s primary power grid.

Here’s a bit of interesting news for Texas energy consumers.  It’s a bit wonky, so stick with us.

On April 14th, an independent expert announced that wholesale electric prices in Texas have dropped this year, as compared to what they were in 2014.

Lower wholesale prices mean generators make less money, but also probably mean lower retail prices.  So the announcement — which was made during a board meeting of ERCOT, the organization that oversees the state’s primary power grid — should come as good news for ratepayers.

Here’s where it gets wonky. The announcement also prompted an important discussion at ERCOT about the assumptions it uses when monitoring the state’s power market.  Changing those assumptions could impact how much we all pay for electricity.

The independent expert who addressed ERCOT said the drop in wholesale power prices means that certain key generators make less money. The relative profitability of these generators is described with the term “Peaker Net Margin.”  A high Peaker Net Margin means the key generators — “peaking” plants — are making lots of money. A low Peaker Net Margin means they’re making less.

Historically, some experts have deemed a relatively high “Peaker Net Margin” as an indicator of a healthy wholesale power market. But as a consequence of the announcement on April 14th, ERCOT board members have begun questioning that assumption.

That is, how is it possible that wholesale prices are down, and Peaker Net Margin has been relatively low in recent years — and yet the ERCOT market has remained consistently healthy?  The independent expert who addressed ERCOT raised similar questions, and even acknowledged that Peaker Net Margin is a “simplistic look-back tool.”

Why should you care? Because big generation companies who have clamored for very expensive changes to the wholesale power market point to the state’s relatively low Peaker Net Margin to bolster those claims. They want regulators to approve a system whereby they can collect billions of dollars in subsidies from ratepayers. In theory, these subsidies would increase Peaker Net Margin.

So it should come as good news if ERCOT places less emphasis on this “simplistic look-back tool” when judging the relative health of the power market. Placing a lower emphasis on Peaker Net Margin also coincides with views held by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, which has previously questioned PNM’s validity as an indicator of market health.

For instance, TCAP has noted that Peaker Net Margin does not account for various other ways power companies make money, such as selling power through private “bilateral” contracts.  Additionally, Peaker Net Margin fails to consider that many generation companies own fleets of plants that include non-peaking, low-cost plants that provide cost benefits that peaking plants do not.

– R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.

 

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Study: Automatic Bill Payment Programs Cost Money, Increase Consumption http://tcaptx.com/rates-and-service/automatic-bill-payment-costing-you-money http://tcaptx.com/rates-and-service/automatic-bill-payment-costing-you-money#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 20:57:23 +0000 http://tcaptx.com/?p=11268 meterLooking to cut your electric consumption?  One way to do so — and save money to boot — is to avoid automatic bill payment programs.

That’s the conclusion of Duke University economist Steven Sexton, who finds in a new peer reviewed study that enrollment in automatic bill payment programs can increase residential electricity consumption by 4 percent to 6 percent.

For commercial customers, consumption increased by 7.3 percent to 8.1 percent, he found.

“Inattention to accounts serviced by (automatic bill payment) programs may increase — reducing the price salience of products,” Sexton wrote in his report. He said this potentially prompted energy consumption “above levels that would be chosen with full attention to price.”

The report appears in the May 2015 edition of the Review of Economics and Statistics. You can view it here.

Sexton examined monthly consumption by residential and commercial customers of a South Carolina electric utility over a 16-year period.  The researcher reviewed data from 658,000 residential accounts and 167,500 commercial accounts, looking specifically at consumption before and after customers joined automatic-payment programs.

Extrapolating from that data, Sexton calculated that automatic bill payment programs induced nearly 16 billion kilowatt-hours of incremental consumption in the United States in 2010. That incremental consumption resulted in an aggregate cost of $1.8 billion.

Automatic bill payment plans also led to an incremental addition of 8.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, at a social cost of $181 million, according to Sexton’s calculations.

Sexton found even more incremental consumption — 9.4 percent — among customers with energy efficient homes. He speculated that such customers may believe they already consume electricity in an efficient manner, and so are “even less disposed to view electricity bills than standard homeowners.”

He likewise found that programs that help low-income customers smooth the seasonal variation in their monthly bills results in a 6.7 percent increase in electric use.

One way to encourage more efficient energy usage by automatic bill payment customers is to require them to complete monthly transactions online, wrote Sexton. That is, utilities can remove some of the automatic-ness of automatic payment programs.

In this way, “the customer has to at least look at the bill before the payment is transmitted,” he wrote.

– R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.

 

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ERCOT Projects Healthy Electricity Reserves http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/ercot-projects-healthy-energy-reserves http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/ercot-projects-healthy-energy-reserves#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 22:12:54 +0000 http://tcaptx.com/?p=11221 Ercot_logoTexas should have plenty of electricity this summer  as well as relatively healthy power reserves through 2025.

That’s the word from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — the organization that operates the state’s primary power grid — which released on Monday twin reports that describe the future of Texas power reserves.

Major findings included ERCOT’s projection that the state will have more than 77,000 megawatts of generation resources available this summer. That should be enough to serve the estimated 68,000 MW of peak demand over that same period.

One megawatt is enough electricity to serve about 200 homes on a hot summer afternoon.

Looking further into the future, ERCOT projects an 18.5 percent reserve margin in 2017, a 21.4 percent margin in 2018 and then a 10.4 percent in 2025. Those percentages represent proportions of available generation over projected peak demand.

“We continue to monitor potential impacts of various environmental regulations and other factors on the future generation resource outlook,” said ERCOT Director of System Planning Warren Lasher.

The conclusions of the twin technical reports — the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy report and the Capacity, Demand and Reserves report — come as good news for consumers because healthy energy reserves reduce the likelihood of blackouts. Healthy reserves also tend to discourage expensive price spikes in the wholesale energy market.

The Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy report assumes milder summer weather than ERCOT earlier projected in a report released two months ago. ERCOT also now projects more generation resources than it had previously.

Separately, the Capacity, Demand and Reserves analysis (a 10-year forward analysis) predicts more than 4,500 MW of generation additions in the coming years, including 2,600 MW of new natural gas-fired plants.

An ERCOT press release summarizing both reports can be found here.

– R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.

 

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HB 3749: The Year’s Most Important Legislation for Gas Utility Customers http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/hb-3749-the-years-most-important-legislation-for-gas-utility-customers http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/hb-3749-the-years-most-important-legislation-for-gas-utility-customers#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 22:07:50 +0000 http://tcaptx.com/?p=11201 The Houston Chronicle this week has highlighted what is likely the year’s most important legislation for Texas gas utility customers.

House Bill 3749, by state Rep. Jim Keffer, will help ensure that Texas cities continue having a voice to defend their citizens against unwarranted gas utility rate hikes.

A key legislative committee approved the bill last week. But House Bill 3749 still has a long way to go before it becomes law.

Chris Tomlinson

Chris Tomlinson

As was explained by Chronicle columnist Chris Tomlinson, the legislation would prevent the Texas Railroad Commission from enforcing rules that punish cities for challenging rate hikes.

The bill is simple, sort of.

Here’s the background:  back in December, the Texas Railroad Commission adopted rules that would more narrowly assign certain costs associated with litigating gas utility rate cases. Under what had been common practice for generations, those costs previously had been shared by all Texans residing within a utility service area. That’s because all Texans within a utility service area benefit from city representation.

But under the new rules, only citizens living in cities that challenge rate hikes would pay the costs. Other customers, by contrast, would still receive all the benefits of the city representation — but shoulder none of those regulatory costs.

As Tomlinson explains, this Railroad Commission rule change would discourage cities from getting involved in rate cases. And as cities are gas customers only effective advocates in rate cases, this rule change — sooner or later — will lead to higher rates.

Keffer

Rep. Jim Keffer

What House Bill 3749 does is it restores the balance. Under the legislation, the Railroad Commission would roll back this “direct assignment” rule and assign rate case expenses to all citizens within a utility service area.

Over the last decade or so, cities have helped shave about $500 million from utility rate requests. The legislation by Keffer will help ensure that that advocacy will continue in the future.

Tomlinson, in his column, encourages Texans to get involved, to let their voices be heard.

“Small businesses and consumers should be aware that the very rules they complain about the most, and can cost them serious money, are under discussion in Austin. (But) just as a lobbyist can get a law passed, a little activism can also make a difference,” he wrote.

Stay tuned here for more legislative details as they become available. Want to contact your local lawmaker? Check out the link here.

– R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.

 

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Monday at the Capitol: Legislation would rename the state’s ‘worst-named agency’ http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/monday-at-the-capitol-legislation-would-rename-the-states-worst-named-agency http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/monday-at-the-capitol-legislation-would-rename-the-states-worst-named-agency#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 19:01:45 +0000 http://tcaptx.com/?p=11080 Texas CapitolIt’s been said that the Texas Railroad Commission is the worst-named agency in the state.

And that’s not according to an agency detractor, but from a former chairperson.

The Texas Railroad Commission has absolutely no authority over railroads. Surveys have shown wide confusion about its responsibilities. But Texas home and business owners – whether they know it or not — depend upon the Commission to ensure home gas rates remain reasonable.

A key committee in the Texas House considers on Monday House Bill 1106, which would change the name of the Texas Railroad Commission to the Texas Energy Commission. Such a change has drawn support from consumer groups, former and current Railroad Commissioners and even some industry officials.

The agency is one of the oldest of its type in the nation.  Although it at one time regulated railroads, it surrendered the last of that authority in 2005. The agency now oversees the Texas oil and gas industry, as well as home rates charged by gas utilities. Unfortunately many Texans – perhaps most – may be unfamiliar with those responsibilities.

For instance, Dallas-based Breitling Energy, in a recent survey, found that 59 percent of respondents favored the as-yet-still fictional Texas Energy Commission as the best agency to ensure drilling safety. When told that no such agency exists – and that the Texas Railroad Commission currently possessed that authority – a large majority of respondents expressed support for a name change.

The Railroad Commission, in a self-evaluation report, also called for a name change.   And it was former Chairman Victor Carrillo who, in 2010, called the commission  “the worst-named agency in Texas.” 

But will the Texas Legislature finally do away with the old name? That remains an open question.  Numerous such proposals have failed in the past.

“The RRC has nothing to do with trains! Did you know that? If not, you aren’t alone,” Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton wrote in a recent blog post. “There’s a woefully inadequate level of understanding regarding what the RRC does.”

For more information about the Texas Railroad Commission, and its responsibility in gas utility issues, check out the report found here.

Stay tuned here for more legislative details as they become available. Want to contact your local lawmaker? Check out the link here.

– R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.

 

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Monday at the Capitol: Important Gas Consumer Legislation http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/monday-at-the-capitol-important-gas-consumer-legislation http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/monday-at-the-capitol-important-gas-consumer-legislation#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 18:20:05 +0000 http://tcaptx.com/?p=10999 Picture2

Of the thousands of bills filed so far in Austin, perhaps none would more benefit gas utility customers than House Bill 2988 and House Bill 3749.

If adopted, either of these bills would help ensure that consumers continue having a strong voice at the agency that oversees home gas rates. Both bills will be considered in a key legislative committee on Monday.

Here’s the background:

The Texas Railroad Commission adopted a set of rules in December that would undermine the ability of cities to defend their citizens in rate cases. The rules were opposed by cities, consumer groups and many lawmakers. Opponents rightly noted that the new rules would gradually lead to higher gas rates and tilt the regulatory playing field in favor of monopoly utilities and and against Texas ratepayers.

Proponents of those Railroad Commission rules argued they could save money by reducing legal costs.  But this argument fails to hold water. While it’s true that defending ratepayers costs money, those costs pale in comparison to the net savings that accrue from savings on home bills. Between 2000 and 2013, for instance, cities helped save their citizens in excess of $500 million in avoided rates.

Keffer

Rep. Jim Keffer

And it’s utilities — not cities — that drive rate cases at the Railroad Commission. Remember: gas utilities are monopolies. They face no free market competition that otherwise would pressure them to keep their rates affordable. It was also the monopoly utilities — and not cities or consumer groups — that were lobbying for the new rules at the Railroad Commission.

Any effort to dilute city authority at the Railroad Commission — and that’s the effect of the new rules adopted in December — will contribute to higher rates. But House Bills 2988 and 3749 will help restore regulatory balance.

Both bills are by state Rep. Jim Keffer and both will be taken up Monday, April 13, in the House Energy Resources Committee. The committee agenda can be found here. You can also watch the hearing on the internet, at this link.

Stay tuned here for more legislative details as they become available. Want to contact your local lawmaker? Check out the link here.

– R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.

 

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84th Texas Legislature: This Week’s Energy Bills http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/84th-texas-legislature-this-weeks-energy-bills http://tcaptx.com/policy-and-reform/84th-texas-legislature-this-weeks-energy-bills#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 20:32:28 +0000 http://tcaptx.com/?p=10975 Texas CapitolOf the thousands of bills so far filed during the 84th Texas Legislature, more than 120 potentially impact gas and electric utility customers. Some would tend to lower prices. Others would have the opposite effect. Some  legislation would impact customers in other ways.

Here’s what to watch for this week:

  • Senate Bill 1444, by Sen. Larry Taylor, would facilitate the use of utility right-of-way for the creation public hike-and-bike trails. The legislation will be considered in public hearing on Tuesday, in the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee.
  • House Bill 1101, by state Rep. Sylvester Turner, would temporarily extend the life of the System Benefit Fund, which finances rate discounts for low-income electric customers. Texans already have paid for this extension. House Bill 1101 simply ensures that money collected from ratepayers for the System Benefit Fund is used for its intended purpose. House Bill 1101 will be considered during a public hearing on Wednesday, during a subcommittee meeting of the House Appropriations committee.
  • House Bill 2561, by state Rep. Jim Keffer, relates to wholesale power costs that accrue as a result of line congestion. The intention of HB 2561 is to allocate that money back to transmission projects that tend to alleviate the congestion. The bill will be heard on Wednesday, in House State Affairs.

Also, several important pro-consumer bills await hearings. These include House Bill 3084 and Senate Bill 1271, which would help protect city coalitions that defend the interests of electric ratepayers. Likewise House Bill 2988, Senate Bill 1905 and House Bill 3749 help preserve city coalitions — but specifically those coalitions that defend gas utility customers at the Texas Railroad Commission.

Stay tuned here for more legislative details as they become available. Want to contact your local lawmaker? Check out the link here.

– R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.
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