Houston Becoming A Green Power Glutton

Texas is an energy enigma. It’s oil country, but there’s more wind power in the state than anywhere in the U.S. It’s sunny, but has been slow to embrace solar on a big scale. And then there’s Houston, a town built on fossil fuels if there ever was one, now announcing it will go green with its power sourcing in an unprecedented way.

The city said that in the two-year period beginning July 1 it would purchase “over 140 megawatts of renewable power” from Reliant Energy, the NRG Energy subsidiary – half of the municipal government’s electricity demand. “The City will be using almost 623,000 megawatt-hours of green power per year, which is equivalent to the amount … needed to power over 55,000 homes each year,” the announcement said.

Mind you, this is all being done through the purchase of renewable energy credits – the city isn’t building its own giant wind or solar power plants to generate this kind of energy – but the RECs are Green-E certified. Under this program, sellers undergo annual verification of their renewable energy supply and sales, ensuring that the energy was actually generated by resources that are eligible under the Green-e Energy National Standard.

The city said it will pay about $2 million extra – less than $0.01 per kilowatt-hour – for the power.

“Houston is already known as the energy capital of the world, but we are committed to becoming the alternative energy capital of the world as well,” Mayor Annise Parker said in a statement. “Purchasing green power reduces the environmental impacts of electricity use, decreases the cost of renewable power over time and supports the development of new renewable generation. A triple win for Houstonians.”

The mayor added that the city is doing what it can to encourage more actual alternative energy development right on its home turf. The mayor listed these initiatives (quoting from the release):

  • With existing installations at the George R. Brown Convention Center, City Hall Annex, Discovery Green, and most recently, the Houston Permitting Center, the City is a test bed for solar technologies.  The Green Building Resource Center provides education and shows real-time energy production of its rooftop solar panels.
  • With funding from a DOE SunShot Rooftop Solar Challenge grant, the City is working with the Houston Advanced Research Center on streamlining and refining the solar permitting process.
  • In the 2013 Texas legislative session, the City worked closely with Keeping PACE in Texas, actively supporting SB 385 (Property Assessed Clean Energy Act) which will provide financing to help property owners break down the financial barriers to installing renewable energy projects.
  • The City understands the need for clean, renewable energy is also to offer more reliability during times of extreme weather events.  Using grant funding, 17 mobile solar-powered shipping containers/generators were acquired through a partnership with the University of Green Building Components Program and placed at fire stations, parks, neighborhood centers and schools.
  • The City is exploring potential ideas that would keep the market moving forward, including a Solar Benefit program.  This idea would reduce the complexity and cost of residential solar through a collective group discount program. The program would reach the residential sector via targeted outreach through employer organiza­tions in Houston.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.