The City Government’s Remarkable Feat Defies the Odds With Ambitious Climate Action Plan
The City of Houston is a leader in renewable energy.
It’s no secret that oil and gas have long been Houston’s lifeblood. The energy industry runs through Space City’s veins, cushioning us while other cities struggle, propelling us ever forward.
But there’s something to keep in mind — energy encapsulates far more than oil and gas, from solar to wind. And the City of Houston is all about sustainability.
In fact, Houston is a straight-up leader in renewable energy across the United States.
That’s right. The City of Houston sources a whopping 92 percent of its power from wind and solar energy. According to a February EPA report, that impressive percentage ranks it higher in renewable energy use than any other city government in the United States.
Houston might carry an overall bad reputation in sustainability circles nationally, often getting painted as a polluted wasteland (often by those who’ve never visited). But the City of Houston is here to create a new one.
The City of Houston, dedicated to its ambitious Climate Action Plan, with aims for a 2020 implementation, is putting its money where its mouth is.
“Oftentimes, we think of Houston as the Oil and Gas Capital of the World. But really, we strive to be the Energy Capital of the World,” Houston’s chief sustainability officer Lara Cottingham tells PaperCity.
“As a city, we have a really long and strong history of sustainability. From a sustainability perspective, we’ve been the largest municipal user of renewable energy for some time now.”
Most of the City of Houston’s power — about 88 percent of it — comes from wind turbine operators, while the rest is sourced from an Alpine, Texas solar farm that spans 350 acres.
“Houston’s not traditionally viewed as a hotbed for climate action. But the fact that we’re doing this in our big cities just shows how far the idea of climate has changed, that’s it’s not just a political hot button issue but something we’ve realized that we have to work on,” Cottingham notes.
Mayor Turner has stepped up to the plate with renewed interest in renewables, trying to keep pace with the Paris Agreement. But Mayors Parker, White and Brown before him, set the ball rolling. “They wanted to lead by example,” Cottingham says.
The United States government pulling out of the agreement left a weight on state and city governments’ shoulders across the country. “That put a lot of pressure on U.S. cities. The cities had to step it up,” Cottingham notes.
At first, about 80 mayors across America pledged to honor the accords, Cottingham says. Now, that number has shot up to 430 mayors.
“Big cities, small cities, red states, blue states,” Cottingham says. “Everyone in between all coming together to say hey, We support the Paris agreement, what can we do?”
The City of Houston has advanced its goals through an emphasis on electric vehicles.
“That’s how we started investing in renewable energy. We’re one of the first cities early on to test out not just alternative fuels but really electric vehicles,” Cottingham says. “We have one of the largest green fleets in the country. That’s a pretty big commitment to make.”
The green transportation initiative launched back in 2002, and now the light duty passenger fleet is more than 50 percent hybrid.
“Vehicle manufacturers are saying that they’re going to start making more and more electric vehicles to the point that they might make only electric vehicles. That’s huge for Houston, for our emission reduction, for our air quality improvement,” Cottingham says.