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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

Environmental advocacy groups in Texas have praised Parker and Spanjian for their efforts to transform Houston into a clean energy capital. But they point to various challenges the city must face to extend its reach beyond a few key voluntary programs.

Luke Metzger, director of , an Austin-based advocacy group, noted that Houston has struggled to encourage renewable energy consumption among its residents despite being the nation's leading municipal buyer of green power.

Unlike Austin and San Antonio, Houston does not own any utilities and has so far been unable to coax , the local electricity supplier, to offer solar power incentives to its customers, he said.

The city's energy efficiency initiatives "are a good start, but we need to see tougher policies implemented to require energy efficiency, and more twisting of arms at CenterPoint to get the kind of programs that Houstonians want, like solar rebates," he said.

Metzger added that he was hopeful that Parker would make her sustainable city initiatives an even bigger priority should she be elected to a second term this fall.

Matthew Tejada, executive director of , said that tackling high energy consumption among Houstonians was a "massive undertaking" for any city official, due in part to the overall lack of leadership on such issues at the state level.

"It is going to have to be a very laborious, long-term grassroots effort to get the citizens of Houston behind these programs, and that is going to be a chore, but that is really the ultimate step that anybody ... is going to have to take if they really want to turn the tide and make this city clean and sustainable," he said.

"I hope that, should [Parker] win a second term, she will renew the city's commitment to getting everyday Houstonians to be less energy intensive."

Fossil Fuel Industries Entrenched

Juan Parras, director of community outreach for (Citizens League for Environmental Action Now) in Houston, said he would like to see Parker's office focus more on challenging the area's prominent fossil fuel industries.

He said that the Houston ship channel, a 50-mile-long stretch of oil refineries and petrochemicals, continues to produce at least 12 hazardous air pollutants, eight of which are cancer-causing chemicals, that blow into neighboring low-income communities.

Parras argued that projects like the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar sands crude from Alberta mines to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas, could create "a lot of toxic emissions in our communities.

"Switching to [cleaner energy] creates a cleaner environment, but it doesn't keep us from being exposed to toxins" produced from new and old fossil fuel projects, he said.

In March, Mayor Parker sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging the State Department to consider the impact of potential increases of air pollutants on Houston from Keystone XL. Due to the international nature of the pipeline, the agency must grant a presidential permit required to cross the U.S.-Canadian border. A thumbs-up or thumbs-down is expected before December.

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