Public forum discusses changes in Texas energy production, consumption

Joan Vinson

Key changes to energy consumption and production could transform energy processes in Texas, energy experts said Thursday.

The Texas Observer held a public forum June 14 at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs to generate awareness for more environmentally friendly approaches to energy use in Texas. Panelists included energy experts and representatives from commercial energy companies, who spoke about the future of wind and solar energy investment in Texas.

Michael Webber, a mechanical engineering assistant professor who spoke at the forum, said Texas needs to make better use of its flat land and equip it with wind turbines and solar panels to produce renewable energy.

Webber said Chilling Station Six, UT’s Thermal Energy Storage facility, produces fewer greenhouse gases than older cooling stations on campus, and UT’s array of solar panels produce 400,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy every year.

“We installed Meridian Solar panels on campus,” Webber said. “A couple hundred thousand people see [these solar panels] every day.”

The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources could gradually progress in the next ten years, Webber said.

Andrew McCalla, president of Meridian Solar, Inc., a company specializing in solar energy, also spoke at the forum and said solar energy is a better alternative to hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses water to extract natural gas from the earth. He said the non-polluting aspects of capturing the sun’s energy are superior to oil extraction through fracking, which uses large quantities of water. He said using water is an inefficient way to extract natural gas, and his company currently supplies two arrays of solar panels for UT.

Bill White, former Houston mayor and Texas candidate for governor, said he has continuously looked for ways to adopt alternative energy practices in Houston despite its connection with the oil industry. He said Texas should set a goal for growth without having hazardous toxins in the air.

“Texas imports coal to make electricity, which degrades our quality of air,” White said.

Shalini Ramanathan, vice president of development of RES Americas, a renewable energy company, said technology will lead energy production and use into more efficient methods. She said the use of wind and solar power could potentially be used to generate energy to run electric cars.

“More electric cars are beneficial for those in Austin who only drive a few miles per day,” Ramanathan said. “[They are] an elegant suggestion.”