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Energy Efficiency

Does Houston Really Want To Lead The Energy Transition, Or Is This Just More Greenwashing By Big Oil?

Houston wants to lead the transition to sustainable energy, according to the Greater Partnership of Houston, which has put out a webpage with information on Houston’s role in the energy business. There’s even a video. Although the wording leads one to think that Houston wants to transition to renewables, it’s heavily citing fossil-fueled energy talking points. So how will Houston lead the global energy transition?

The promotional video above states that Houston is known as the energy capital of the world and that it creates the energy that makes modern living possible in a changing world. The video brings up the dual challenges that humanity is facing.

“Economic opportunity and quality of life are improving around the world. To support that growth, we will need more energy now and for decades to come. At the same time, we must reduce carbon emissions and respond to the effects of climate change.”

Houston, the video said, is committed to taking on this dual challenge head-on. The video is one of those feel-good videos that shares how Houston is ready to use energy that is cleaner, affordable, and reliable. After the speech about how Houston is ready for cleaner energy, it touts the oil and gas industry … claiming that they are driving efficiency improvements. The video adds that leading wind, solar, and biofuels companies already operate from Houston as well.

This leads one to think that all of these energy sectors are working together, when in fact, fossil fuel energy has been known to heavily greenwash its campaigns. So, is this another such campaign, or is Houston really serious about “leading the transition?”

The video continues to focus on Houston scaling up the use of more efficient, smarter technologies with a reduced carbon footprint — the language here implies further favoritism for fossil fuels, just making them “more efficient” and downsizing their footprints. It also talks about carbon capture and storage technology, which many see as a delay tactic for real action.

A Look At Their Landing Page

The Greater Houston Partnership has a dedicated informational page about its plans to lead the energy transition, yet it doesn’t actually tell us how it plans to do so. Instead, it has some interesting facts about its business climate, renewables, energy tech, and a list of notable employers, which are mostly fossil fuel corporations, such as Anadarko Petroleum, Chevron, BP, Conoco Phillips, and so on. In fact, all of the businesses were linked to fossil fuels.

Its only industry partner is the Society of Petroleum Engineers. I would think that if there were renewable companies such as the “ones already here” mentioned in the video that some of these would be listed as partners or employers — at least.

Breaking Down The Stats

In a quick breakdown of the statistics shown on the Greater Houston Partnership website, we can see how big the fossil fuel industry is in Houston. The site stated that the region has more than 600 exploration and production firms, 1,110 oilfield service companies, and over 180 pipeline transportation establishments. “Houston is truly the Energy Capital of the World.” It also has 44 out of 128 publicly traded oil and gas firms and is the 4th largest concentration of engineers with over 237,000 employees across the industry.

As for renewables, the city has just over 100 solar-related companies, 30 or so wind-related companies, and is home to $3.7 billion in cleantech venture capital funding. It also has over 136 wind power projects online in Texas. I’m not knocking these stats — more than 130 solar and wind companies is not nothing, but again, Houston is pitching its fossil fuel stats first. The website even has a background image of an oil platform. The website admitted that this is a growing base of solar energy sources, so hopefully those numbers will expand rapidly.

What I Didn’t See Was How Houston Plans To Lead The Global Energy Transition

On this informational website filled with glowing stats about oil companies, their partners, a quick paragraph about renewables, and a feel-good video, I didn’t see an action plan as to how Houston plans to achieve its goals. A plan is needed if Houston is truly going to lead the global energy transition. I was able to find a toolkit that had a bit more information on the city’s energy initiatives. In that, the city has a short section titled City of Houston Climate Action Plan. This one paragraph stated:

“A science-based, community-driven plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, meet the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and lead the global energy transition. The CAP will create new market opportunities for cleantech companies and startups in areas such as building energy efficiency, electric vehicles, solar development, waste and recycling management, and carbon solutions.”

That sounds excellent. However, it doesn’t tell me how it’s going to lead the global energy transition. How does it plan to create new market opportunities? What’s the timeline? What are its immediate and long-term goals?

Also in this section, the toolkit again hyped up carbon storage. The Rice University Baker Institute has an initiative that aims to create a global market for soil carbon sequestration and carbon credit trading in Houston. Carbon storage “solutions” (always long term) are a way to say that we can just keep on with our old energy system but capture the carbon and stick it somewhere. Not so much. …

There’s also an Energy2.0 Talent Pipeline Program that supports the transition of the city’s energy workforce into new Energy2.0 career paths.

Renewables And Oil

The rest of the toolkit is a repeat of the video and initial website as to how Houston will lead the global energy transition. It includes a regional overview, more oil and gas statistics, and the additional note that its large oil refinement capacity is 45.5% of the total in Texas and 15% of the total U.S. capacity.

The toolkit also addressed renewables and stated that Houston is a hub for renewables. These stats are hopeful, actually. It is the #1 state for wind capacity, with 144 online wind projects in Texas and 40% of the nation’s utility-scale wind generation project. In this section, it listed that top cleantech employers are:

  • Sunnova
  • EDP Renewables
  • First Solar
  • Texas Solar Outfitters
  • Vert Solar
  • NRG Quantia
  • GE Renewable Energy
  • BP
  • Shell

Yes, it is apparently counting the renewable energy arms of a couple of oil companies.

Conclusion

It seems to me that this is heavily greenwashed. Yes, Texas is a great state for renewables, but it’s well known for being an oil state. Looking over the toolkit, video, and website tells me that the city is putting on a polished image of leading the energy transition, yet it’s not really saying how it’s doing this. There is no detailed plan, and with most of those partners listed on the website being primarily fossil fuel companies or fossil fuel company support companies, this is telling.

There is no plan. Just a feel-good video, nice website, and a well-put-together toolkit that repurposed the website and video, with a few additional well-placed stats and graphics. I’d like to see a plan. And not just for Houston, but for any company, city, or organization that wants to lead the transition.

If Tesla can do it, then these others can, too.

 
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Written By

Johnna Crider is a Louisiana native who likes crawfish, gems, minerals, EVs, and advocates for sustainability. Johnna is also the host of GettingStoned.online, a jewelry artisan and a $TSLA shareholder.

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