Thursday, July 14, 2011

San Antonio seeks to corner clean energy

The mayor of San Antonio has been working to make his Texas city a center of clean energy for the past decade.

In fact, he wants to make it the new energy capital of the world. He tells National Public Radio that Houston is the bona fide energy capital.

This despite San Antonio's location in the center of the nation's oil patch. Or maybe because of that. After all, oil companies are calling themselves energy companies. And what is clean energy but a new way of creating power, just without burning anything.

Mayor Juli├ín Castro announced on NPR's "Talk of the Nation: Science Friday" show that he's lined up an impressive array of companies that plan to make his city their corporate home. "One of them makes electric delivery trucks. One of them, in fact from North Carolina, makes home area networks that work with smart meters. And the other makes LED lighting," he said.

Castro's intent is job creation, and so far he's doing it. His strategy of going green for jobs is supported by a number of reports that have identified clean energy as a great tool to deliver economic development. Already "the clean economy employs more workers than the fossil fuel industry," says the Brookings Institution's "Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment" report.

The Brookings report also says the clean economy offers more opportunities and better pay for low- and middle-skilled workers than the national economy as a whole.

So if San Antonio could do it, so could other regions, especially those with renewable resources.

In a past post, I mentioned Vegas as a prime spot to invest in clean energy. I figured, why not? The casinos spend huge amounts on attractions to elicit the wonder of their patrons. What's a little more for a cluster of solar panels?

Or better yet, why not cloak the towers with a new product from Israel startup SolarOr, which was shopping a newly designed photovoltaic panel, it calls BeeHive PV, at the Intersolar trade show in San Francisco recently.

The panels have a honeycomb design that lets in light and they are 14 percent efficient, said Ucilia Wang in a piece on earth2tech.com, giving a building using them that totally custom look.

After listening to Castro, I thought: "Vegas is still a great showcase, but other cities likewise could make their mark." I live in Fresno, Calif., which ranks No. 5 on the list of U.S. cities with the clearest skies year-round with 194 days, according to a post by Liz Osborn at currentresults.com.

With all that sun -- and yes it's hot and more like 320 days -- Fresno and the surrounding San Joaquin Valley is a great location for renewables. It's also got land, potential for biogas and other biofuels and wind up in the mountains near Tehachapi.

The economy in the Valley isn't the greatest. It's so bad in fact that it was one of six cities included in the Obama Administration's recent launch of Strong Cities, Strong Communities program designed to spark economic growth. Detroit and New Orleans also made the list.

Like Castro, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin considers job development high on her list of priorities. She's also savvy about going after results. "We are going to get to work,” she said in a story about the Strong Cities launch by Michael Kincheloe of the businessjournal.com.

Fresno, like many cities in the Valley, has embraced energy efficiency, and it's even adding solar to multiple city facilities.

But San Antonio's got a huge head start. Castro said the jobs brought to his city by the clean energy companies are a somewhat paltry 230 but are estimated to expand to between 800 and 1,000 jobs by 2015. And the utility serving San Antonio is looking to supply 400 megawatts of solar. It already has ties to 859 megawatts of wind in west Texas on the coast and in south Texas.

Not everybody thinks clean energy in San Antonio is the cat's meow. I stumbled across this post that said clean energy is still the new kid on the block. The piece, which appears on a site supported by the oil industry, explained that Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas deposit in south Texas "will prove to outweigh the hopes of any who wanted to brand the town as a renewable energy city."

The unnamed author does have a point. Existing industry is not to be overlooked or underestimated. It still packs a punch, and that's a good thing. As my friend from East Anchorage High who moved back to Texas to work in the oil industry always says, "Petroleum isn't going anywhere anytime soon."

I believe that. I also believe in the potential of clean energy. We're a society that will find innovative ways to consume all the available energy. And the cheaper it is, the more jobs we'll generate -- wherever we decide to do it.

Photo: The Alamo in San Antonio.

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