Houston Aims to be the Energy Savings Capitol

Being "green" is no longer just a political position. In recent years there has been a shift away from talk of environmental issues being impractical and expensive, and toward seeing them as an affordable, efficient and sustainable to do business. As Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports, the City of Houston has developed a way to make it's buildings greener without taxpayer dollars.

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The city owns and operates 271 buildings and has partnered with Woodlands based HARC or Houston Advanced Research Center to make them greener at little or no cost to taxpayers. Here's how it works according to Richard Haut, a Senior Research Scientist at HARC. First he says energy service companies bid on making the buildings more efficient and the winning bid gets a performanced based contract.

"A performance based contract is that, as an energy service company I will predict, for example, improving the energy efficiency for an air chiller unit and say I'm going to be decreasing the amount of energy that the city has to pay for. I get a certain percentage of that savings back to me, so that's how I'll get paid. They have to put forward that initial capital investment for the equipment and then they predict out what the savings will be and what their payback is and then, of course, a profit on top of that."

Richard Haut believes this would work in the private sector too.

"I would think that there are some companies that own a significant amount of buildings or a college campus that could look at this."

Haut says making existing buildings greener can have an impact on several levels. In 2006 HARC help the city weatherize homes in Pleasantville a community in northeast Houston with about 1,400 homes that are 40 to 60 years old.

"And this weatherization program was able to impact about half of those homes, about 700 homes, costing about a thousand dollars a home. The energy savings alone is about $160 dollars a year. So, we're helping people increase their own comfort in their home, increasing the property values of their homes and then also give them that energy savings."

Haut says HARC expected energy savings in Pleasantville to be about 15%, the real savings turned out to be more than 20% overall. He also thinks this emerging field will continue to grow and create new jobs in the process.

To learn learn more about HARC, and Houston's effort to make the city more energy efficient, go to Houston's "Power to the People" website and the HARC's website.

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