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Houston Lures Clean Energy Companies Seeking New Home Base

As America's oil capital continues its push to build a greener economy, cleantech innovators are finding a home in an unlikely town

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jun 22, 2011
Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Parker has set out to continue to raise the city's green energy profile since starting her first mayoral term last year. As part of the effort, she brought on board Laura Spanjian, who was working for San Francisco's Public Utility Commission, to serve as Houston's sustainability director and resident "green guru."

Mayor Wins Green Award

The mayor on Tuesday was chosen as the winner in the large city category of the 2011 for her sustainability efforts. The annual award program was sponsored by the and Walmart.

"This city has a perception of being only an oil and gas town, but the city is looking to the future ... and it wants to be cutting edge. It wants to be innovative," Spanjian told SolveClimate News.

"We're trying to launch a number of initiatives to really try and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and show our leadership in the sustainable world."

Spanjian said that the mayor's office is aiming to get 50 percent of the city's energy from renewable resources by early 2012 — and 75 percent by 2013 — by purchasing more renewable energy credits from existing wind farms and large-scale solar projects in development.

Houston is already recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as the top municipal purchaser of renewable energy in the country, with 33 percent of its energy coming primarily from wind farms in West Texas.

Green Buildings, Electric Cars

In September, Parker's office launched the yearlong , which awards businesses 20 percent of up-front costs needed to retrofit buildings and reduce energy consumption, water usage and waste production by 10 to 50 percent.

The city's goal is to make Houston No. 1 for the number of buildings certified by both LEED and Energy Star, a joint initiative of the EPA and the Department of Energy. Houston is currently the eighth and sixth top state for each program, respectively.

David Knox, spokesperson for Princeton, N.J.-based utility , said that the city's push for electric vehicle adoption persuaded the power plant operator to launch its first citywide EV charging network in Houston.

More than half of NRG Energy's 24,000 megawatts of generating capacity are in Texas, and its state office is based in Houston, though Knox said the firm looked nationwide for potential hosts of its charger rollout.

"The city's embrace of electric vehicles specifically ... was very important to us [as we were asking], 'Where do we want to start this?'" he said.

"They have supported us, and support doesn't necessarily need to be financial in nature."

Houston was an early adopter of alternative vehicles with a fleet of more than 500 Toyota Prius hybrids. The city now has two all-electric Nissan Leafs and aims to have 25 of the cars plus hybrid models by the end of the year.

The mayor's office plans to allow EVs to use the high occupancy vehicle lanes on local freeways and will possibly reduce fees for EVs on area toll roads. The city will also issue permits for installation of home charging stations within 24 hours and provide free or reduced-cost charging stations to drivers of the Leaf or Chevrolet Volt.

Spanjian said Houston would probably have close to 250 charging stations by the end of the year, including ones installed by the city itself and 50 stations from San Francisco-based , which is leading a to install 15,000 charging stations in 16 U.S. cities and the District of Columbia.

Knox said that NRG Energy is also looking to install its eVgo network along the state highways from Houston to Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio.

Qualified Praise from Enviro Groups

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