Group Advocates For Energy Efficiency Building Codes For Houston

Clean energy advocates are urging the Houston City Council to approve new building codes that exceed state standards for energy efficiency.

A new report by the policy group "Environment Texas" says more solar-powered homes and better energy efficiency could help Houston dramatically cut its demand for electricity produced by fossil fuels. According to the group's findings, demand could drop by nearly eight percent by the year 2030 if the city adopts more energy-efficient practices.

When you drive by on the street the small home near the Montrose looks a lot like the other bungalows in the neighborhood, but when you check out the side of the house, you see what makes it different.  There's a long line of carefully angled solar panels that generate much of the home's power. 

The 1600 square foot home is the residence of architect John Zemanik.  He calls his modest home a bridge, from the 19th century when oil was discovered in Texas, to the 21st century.

"It's not trying to, how shall we say, violate the tradition of our neighborhood. But at the same time, the very thing that makes it run is a continuous technological evolution."

The home served as a backdrop for the unveiling of the new Environment Texas report.  It says Houston could save lots of money and energy by encouraging builders to construct more net-zero homes, homes that generate their own electricity.  The organization's Tessa McClellan says the savings would be substantial.

"We could save 7.8 percent of Houston's annual electricity use by 2030.  We could also protect public health by preventing 2.3 million metric tons of global warming pollution."

In 2008 the city of Houston adopted new energy efficient building standards that were higher than state minimums, and the organization is encouraging the city council to set even higher standards, 15 percent higher than the state minimum.

"The City of Houston has done a lot to purchase renewable electricity, both of wind and solar.  We've done a lot in starting to develop infrastructure for electric vehicles but we need to continue investing in solar and energy efficiency."

Houston City Council member Sue Lovell said earlier she's concerned about adding cost to a new home, and what it would mean for people trying to get home loans. But State Representative Jessica Farrar says everyone would save in the long run.

"Once it's in the code, it drives the market, everybody works by the same set of rules. And then you start to have economies of scale."

And Farrar says while Houston became a major player in the oil industry, she doesn't want the city to miss an opportunity to position itself as a center of renewable energy.

"We've really got to be looking for renewable sources, we just can't keep doing business the way we always have been. And if we don't move toward the future, toward renewables, we will be left behind here in Houston."

The city council is set to take up the issue at next week's meeting.

Bio photo of Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

Gail Delaughter joined KUHF in October 2008 as Saturday morning news anchor and host. A native of New Orleans and a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, Gail has extensive experience in Texas and Louisiana as a radio news reporter and morning show anchor and co-host...