Soll Sussman works in the energy division of the Texas General Land Office, where he helped organize the Texas Sustainable Energy Network. Also a writer, he formerly worked for the Associated Press as bureau chief in Canada and correspondent in Washington, Mexico City, and Central America.

Monday, 23 Jun 2003

AUSTIN, Texas

This should be a big week for the Texas Sustainable Energy Network, one of the reasons we formed nearly a year ago.

Kathryn Houser, Soll Sussman, Russel Smith, and Erin Whalen at the Texas Sustainable Energy Network kickoff.

Back then, looking ahead to May and June of 2003, several of us found it quite remarkable that the national wind and solar conferences would take place in back-to-back months in Austin. The American Wind Energy Association was due here in May and the American Solar Energy Society in June.

Add to that the first International Green Building Conference set for the Austin Convention Center last November, and it was clear that Texas had a unique opportunity to present itself as the nation’s new leader in sustainable energy.

With the national solar conference now underway through Thursday, we’re at the end of this first stage of getting our name and message out to the renewable energy industry.

Last summer, we started recruiting individuals and organizations who could help with our main goal, finding ways to present Texas to the convention visitors from all over the world as the ideal site for energy’s future. We hoped that we might be able to convince new or expanding firms that Texas is a great site to locate.

We also hoped, of course, to be able to get some statewide and national media attention for the remarkable progress that Texas has made in renewables, especially in wind energy. “In 2001, about 6,000 megawatts of new wind capacity was installed around the world,” the Energy Foundation wrote in its annual report. “Almost 1,700 megawatts of that was installed in the U.S., with over half of that in Texas alone.”

Finally, we wanted to take advantage of the quick succession of national events to put the spotlight on renewables for Texas consumers who might not otherwise have been aware of the sustainable energy industry in the state.

Kathryn Houser of the Texas Solar Energy Society had been tossing around the idea of pulling together some kind of umbrella promotion. I became involved because I organize the annual U.S.-Mexico Border Energy Forum, and our 10th anniversary was going to be held in Austin for the first time in October 2003. While we take a comprehensive view of all energy possibilities for northern Mexico and the American Southwest at the Forum, renewables and energy efficiency play a major part in our annual event.

My colleague at the Texas General Land Office, Adan Martinez, the coordinator of the sustainable energy program at our state government agency, also chairs the Resource Management Commission that advises the Austin City Council on renewable energy. So we were well placed to start spreading the word and recruiting the right people to help.

We were able to take the first tangible step forward for our coalition with the publication of souvenir bookmarks and posters that called attention to the events due here over the next year. “Journey to the Center of the Sustainable Earth,” they blare out in purple graphics designed to bring to mind the science fiction epics of the 1950s. Texas, they say, is a center of ideas and knowledge that has started out the 21st century by attracting a series of national and international clean energy events. (Email me if you’d like to get bookmarks or posters: soll.sussman@glo.state.tx.us.)

As usual with next-to-no-budget efforts, I’ve been most struck by the goodwill and enthusiasm that we’ve been able to drum up for the cause. It seems that every time we’ve hit a roadblock of one kind or another, someone has stepped up to solve it.

“Who had the wonderful idea and worked the magic to get all those sustainable business conferences in Austin?” one of the Austin migrants to Washington, D.C., for the Bush administration wrote us after seeing our promotional materials. “It’s an amazing lineup and a tremendous accomplishment.”

We hear reports back that a solar firm in Massachusetts has our Journey to the Center poster on its office wall, so we know that our word is getting out. And four more conferences on our 2003 spotlighted list are due here through November.