Photo by Liz WalkerAttribution Non-commercial
Andy Martinex President of GAHCC Introduces (L to R: Rabago, Taylor, Eppling, Aquilar)
A couple of weeks ago I attended the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Speaker’s Luncheon. The theme of the meeting was “The Economic Impact of Reducing Your Carbon Footprint”. A big shout-out to the GAHCC for sponsoring the meeting! There are tons of very cool things I could write about the conversations I heard at this “green confab”, but I’ll try to be brief. Forgive me if I have left anything out!
The event opened with former Austin City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem, Brewster McCracken. He described his childhood forays into sustainable development—when at age 14 he built a solar-powered water heater in his parent’s garage. From that early inspiration, he has been focused on sustainability throughout his career in public service. He started working with the Pecan Street Project as the City of Austin’s founding representative and is currently the Executive Director of the organization.
Used by Permission of Pecan Street ProjectUsed only with express written permission
Vision of the Pecan Street Smart House
Pecan Street Project is a clean energy/smart grid research and development organization headquartered at the University of Texas. In collaboration with its various partners, Pecan Street is developing and implementing smart grid and clean energy technologies and business models. It was launched by Austin Energy, the City of Austin, Environmental Defense Fund, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Texas’ Austin Technology Incubator — each of which is now represented on the board of directors. Pecan Street funding includes the U.S. Department of Energy, through its $10.4 million demonstration grant. Those Federal stimulus funds were granted for the demonstration project at the Mueller community to develop an advanced clean energy system called an “Energy Internet”. The Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) is also supporting the organization’s regional economic development goals. Numerous corporate sponsors include Applied Materials, Cisco, Dell, Freescale Semiconductor, General Electric Corporation, GridPoint, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, SEMETECH, and others.
Photo by Liz WalkerAttribution Non-commercial
Brewster McCracken of the Pecan Street Project
Brewster talked about the metamorphosis of the first two of the “three great networked industries”—broadcast and telecom. The dramatic and rapid changes those two industries have undergone is clearly evident—situated front and center in most of our daily lives. The “third great networked industry” is the electricity industry. This is the new frontier with a future of opportunity for energy efficiency—it’s the only one that is not digital yet. As the Mueller demonstration project moves forward, we’ll see real life examples of how carbon footprint reduction has a strong economic impact—from creating new jobs to reducing energy and water bills.
Photo by Liz WalkerAttribution
Kevin Johns of the City of Austin
Next up, Kevin Johns Director of the City of Austin Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, served as moderator for the discussion. Austin’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office has a staff of approximately 45 and a budget of more than $16 million. Kevin told us that the future of cleantech market analysis shows a projected growth of 20% per year. Part of his job is to get as much of that growth as possible in Austin. He also gave us a quick synopsis of his background. He told a couple of really funny jokes too, but I was too busy taking pictures, and couldn’t write them down. He’s quite an entertaining guy! He then introduced each of the panelists.
Karl Ràbago is Vice President for Distributed Energy Services with Austin Energy, and leads the utility’s “Green Team”. What a heavy hitter! His credentials read like a true “Renaissance Man”. I’ll let you discover that for yourself when you read his bio. He’s a lawyer, been a cavalry officer, Ranger—you name it. He’s also Austin Energy’s executive sponsor for the Pecan Street Project. Plus he definitely knows energy! He told us that the production and use of electricity is the leading contributor of greenhouse gasses. So far his efforts have helped bring in $35 million in stimulus funds. Right now, Austin is a leader in clean energy. Austin Energy’s GreenChoice® program leads the nation in showing that customers who want to manage costs and reduce emissions can make a difference in the way electricity is made—but our leadership position is evaporating. Although we’ve led the nation eight years in a row, we can’t take our eye off the ball—or someone else will assume the lead.
Steve Taylor is Senior Manager of Internal Communications and North America Corporate Affairs for Applied Materials—the global leader in Nanomanufacturing Technology™ solutions. They are also the largest maker of solar panel manufacturing machinery in the world. They are probably most known for the chip manufacturing equipment—but he told us that we have to face the bad news that chip manufacturing is evaporating in the US—but the good news is that the solar panel is growing here. That’s one reason why In addition to his communications duties at Applied Materials, Steve chairs the Texas political initiative for a national organization called The Solar Alliance, which is working to enact incentives for solar business development.
Chevy Volt Arrives in Austin for Pre-Launch EventUsed only with express written permission
Chevy Volt Arrives in Austin, TX
Everyone in the audience was very eager to hear from Craig Eppling. Craig is the Communications and Public Relations Manager for General Motors‘ South Central Region. He is responsible for media relations and PR strategy to improve opinion and consideration of General Motors, its policies and its products in an eight-state geographical area that includes Texas. He told us that transportation generates 25% of our carbon issues. Plus, get this—the City of Austin uses more gasoline per capita than any other city. I guess that’s one of the reasons that Austin was selected as the Texas launch city (and with New York) will be first in the US to get the new Chevy Volt. Plus of course, because Austin Energy already is engaged in a plug in electric vehicle (PEV) readiness initiative to help dealerships and their customers prepare for PEVs. The utility also is working with regional partners to develop a network of public charging stations. Now we actually know the price of the car–MSRP of $41,000, we can decide if it will be worth the anticipation!
The panel was concluded with Hector Aguilar, Executive Dean of Continuing Education at Austin Community College (ACC). Hector described the leading and important role ACC is playing in training people for some the estimated 6.3 million cleantech jobs that will be created. ACC is one of the largest trainers for renewable energy installers, having trained more than 1,000 people so far. He also described the great partnerships ACC has with the other panel members, such as Austin Energy and Applied Materials for One House at a Time and Meals on Wheels and More, plus GM has given some hybrids to the automotive department at ACC.
Awesome stuff! I’m now more upbeat than ever about the positive economic impact that going green has for our city, state, and nation. In fact, that’s why I’m working so hard to develop my business of manufacturing traffic signs and markers made from e-waste plastic. You can read more about the work I do to help eliminate e-waste from landfills here. Great meeting!