Houston’s Renewable Energy

For those people around Lowndes County who are living in the past and still say solar doesn’t work, Jonathan Hiskes interviews the former mayor of Houston, Bill White, in Grist, 24 Sep 2010, and asks about solar energy and efficiency:
During White’s time as mayor of Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, he ran a highly successful home-weatherization program and engineered a major purchase of 50 megawatts of clean energy, giving momentum to the state’s booming wind industry.
Hm, so VSU, for example, could buy wind energy from windmills off the Georgia Coast…

Read on about solar.

We’ve shown that rooftop solar systems can be more effective in housing than many believe. As the price of solar voltaics comes down, the expertise to install the panels goes up, and as the control technologies within houses and commercial buildings improve, then you can imagine using your own power off-grid at a time when the grid pricing is at its highest.


Q. As the mayor of Houston and an Energy Department official, you did a lot to promote efficiency, which is of course the cheapest energy source. What should the state be doing to cut energy waste?

A. We need a governor who will encourage local governments to adopt forward-thinking energy codes that make occupancy more affordable and make our state more competitive. If we can avoid having to build large, new generating plants, we can avoid the expense of those plants.

In Texas, Houston set the standard with an aggressive code. Dallas and Austin have done the same for commercial construction, with broad-based support from the business community.


Here’s an even better plan: In Houston, we retrofitted older housing stock at a very large volume. It created jobs, and we did it without any federal stimulus or weatherizing funds. When I was deputy secretary of energy, I noticed that the way we had traditionally done weatherization was inefficient. You didn’t get economies of scale. So in Houston, we gave everybody in a neighborhood a one-page form that said “Yes” or “No.” For everybody who wanted it, a crew would come in and pressurize the house, seal the leaks, put or replace insulation in the attic if it was insufficient, replace light bulbs with energy-efficient light bulbs, those types of things. We could do one house in about 2 hours and 10 minutes. In the neighborhoods where we did this, we brought down the average utility bill for all who participated by 10 to 20 percent. We scaled up, trained crews, created jobs, and had certifications and quality control, for a little more than $1,000 per house, versus ! $8,000 for the traditional weatherization program. That’s the type of program we need throughout the country, especially in middle-class neighborhoods built from 1940 to 1970.


I believe that energy efficiency done right has a strong economic rationale and that it also has environmental benefits. When you put the discussion in those terms, I find that you have an easier time finding common ground.

And remember, Houston has less average daily solar radiation than Valdosta does, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.