Key Takeaways:

  • Nation’s fourth largest city receives 92% of electricity from wind and solar
  • Severe weather events like Hurricane Harvey spurred Houston renewable energy plan
  • Among highest per capita emitters in transportation, city now seeks to lead electric vehicles market.

Leave it to Houston, a global capital of oil & gas corporations, to set a surprising new record: it now uses a greater share of renewable power than any other city in America. Hard to believe?  Yes, but the facts tell the story: the country’s fourth largest receives 92% of its energy from wind and solar, topping all U.S. cities. What does the turnaround tell us about today’s changing electricity economy? That even in a town whose lifeblood has been oil for as long as anyone can remember, clean energy beginnings are not only possible, but economically necessary, when the market savings for wind and solar beat the market costs for fossil fuels.

As Houston’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Lara Cottingham, said: “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.” In other words, markets change and cities change with them—and this is particularly true in an era of growing concerns about climate change. “Houston’s not traditionally viewed as a hotbed for climate action,” she added, “but the fact that we’re doing this in our big cities just shows how far the idea of climate has changed, that it’s not just a political hot button issue but something we’ve realized that we have to work on.”

The City of Houston's Office of Sustainability has an aggressive Climate Action PlanFollowing Hurricane Harvey and three consecutive years of 500-year floods, the City of Houston adopted an ambitious Climate Action Plan which built on Houston’s renewable energy portfolio. Harnessing a powerhouse Texas wind market, the city generates 88% of its energy from wind power alone, while the other 4% of carbon-free electricity comes from solar. Adding to this, the City of Houston is becoming a municipal government leader in the use of electric vehicles: touting what Cottingham calls “one of the largest green fleets in the country” (hybrids account for more than half the city’s light duty passenger vehicles).

Transportation currently accounts for a whopping 47% of Houston’s greenhouse gas emissions—one of the highest per capita nationwide, with 14.9 metric tons released annually—something the city is determined to change.

What We’re Reading: “Houston Ranks No. 1 in America in Renewable Energy Use—No, Really,” as published in Paper City