This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Texas Clean Air Matters Blog
Last week, the City of Houston announced that it would increase its purchase of renewable electricity to cover half of its energy use. The city will use almost 623,000 megawatt-hours of electricity from renewable sources per year—equivalent to the energy used by 55,000 residential homes annually. The purchase makes Houston the largest municipal buyer of renewable energy in the nation. While Houston’s latest renewable energy purchase may seem at odds with its reputation as an oil and gas hub, it’s exactly the sort of common-sense decision we expect from a city that’s touted as the energy capital of the nation.
Houston is in good company among other Texas cities. The City of Austin already gets 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. To make the switch, the city leveraged Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program, one of the nation’s most successful utility-sponsored and voluntary green-pricing programs. The program is part of Austin’s Climate Protection Plan, which establishes a 35 % renewable portfolio goal for Austin Energy by 2020. In San Antonio, the municipally owned CPS Energy has emerged as a leader in clean energy. Through its New Energy Economy initiative, CPS Energy is growing its network of smart meters and expanding its installed solar capacity, among many other sustainable initiatives. Today, CPS Energy uses more solar energy than any other Texas utility, while still having the lowest electric rates among the top 10 largest cities in the United States.
Beyond its latest renewable energy purchase, Houston is home to a number of other clean energy efforts. With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, the city is working to streamline and refine the solar permitting process. On top of that, the city actively supported SB 385 (Property Assessed Clean Energy Act), which helps break down barriers to financing water and energy conservation efforts. Houston is also exploring how innovative energy technologies can help shield residents from extreme weather events. The city used grant funding to install 17 emergency solar-powered generation units at fire stations, parks, neighborhood centers and schools. All in all, Houston’s progressive energy initiatives have helped reduce the city’s building energy use by 30% and its emissions from municipal operations by 26 %.
Earlier this week, President Obama’s landmark climate speech called on America to develop its potential for a clean, low-carbon economy that protects our children from the threat of air pollution and climate change. What we’re seeing in Houston and other Texas cities is indicative of a larger national movement toward common sense, clean energy policies that cut harmful carbon pollution while driving innovation, cutting energy waste and energy bills, creating jobs and protecting public health. With its latest renewable energy purchase, Houston shows us that it will continue its position as a leader in the new American energy economy.