TREIA Optimistic Following its 24th Annual Conference; Its Awardees Divulge it All

I usually don’t miss the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association (TREIA) annual conference held in November, but this year was an exception. I was in San Francisco visiting my new great nephew. There are some things that take precedence over annual renewable energy conferences.

After I apologized to TREIA’s Executive Director, the Lucchese-booted, Stetson-hatted Russel Smith, I was able to persuade him to give me the Cliff’s Notes version of the conference over a bowl of tortilla soup.

Known as the quiet, serious type, Smith was visibly pleased with the conference. “Attendance was up, we sold out our exhibition spaces, and we’re already looking for larger conference options for next year, which will be TREIA’s 25th birthday,” he said.

Once relegated to small conference venues where everyone knew each other, we suddenly find our dance card overbooked. Where did all these suits come from?

Just looking at the list of the 2008 awardees, I could tell it was a huge success. “This year, we had some serious competition for our awards,” said Smith.

Bill White, Mayor of Houston, received TREIA’s Public Official of the Year for his renewable energy and emission-control initiatives. He negotiated a renewable wind power contract that gives the City the ability to bring in 80 MW, or 700,800,000 kWh of renewable power, approaching 50% of the City’s total power consumption. This would represent the highest purchase of green energy by any governmental entity, including federal agencies. Once fully enacted, Houston will lead the nation in the percentage of renewable energy used by a city government.

This is Houston, city of my birth, oil and gas capital of Texas (still). Suddenly, I’m feeling a sense of hometown pride. I shake my head in disbelief. I am delighted.

Who else is on that list?

Texas State Technical College/Waco (TSTC) and TSTC/West Texas shared the TREIA Member of the Year award. “Even though we’re lean on renewable energy incentive programs statewide, (only three municipal utilities currently offer solar incentive programs), we’ve been slowly but consistently building a network of community and technical colleges to develop and teach curricula to build a renewable energy workforce here in Texas,” said Smith. TSTC/Waco created the Texas Renewable Energy Education Consortium (TREEC), which includes TSTC/West Texas, Houston Community College Northeast, Lamar Institute of Technology and St. Phillip’s College.

And since Texas leads the U.S. in wind energy production, it’s a no brainer that Texas would nurture a workforce to operate and maintain large-scale turbines. The Wind Energy Technology Training program at TSTC/West Texas offers three professional wind energy technician courses where students do exactly that.

Not a TREIA awardee this year but worthy of a shout-out is Austin Community College, which started out offering the NABCEP Entry Level Certificate Program as a continuing education course in 2005. Today, ACC has expanded its renewable energy course offerings to include a college credit certificate and degree program, industry certification courses (continuing education), and professional continuing education courses, waiting quietly for the day when Texas will have a state renewable energy incentive program. “That day may be closer than ever,” said Smith. “We’re going after it in January.”

By nature, I’m a humble Texan, not prone to bragging, but I’m beginning to feel a bit giddy.

A Special Recognition Award to Pedernales Electric Cooperative for establishing a goal of 30% of their energy from renewables by 2020 and a goal of 20% for energy efficiency programs. Did I hear that correctly? Is this the same Pedernales Electric Coop that’s not been especially friendly to renewables in the past? And help me out here…it’s the largest electric coop in the U.S., right? Might their actions challenge coops across the U.S. to follow suit?

Pinch me; I must be dreaming.

There’s one more, a Special Recognition award, he tells me.

Oncor, Texas’s largest regulated electric delivery business, the sixth largest in the U.S. Electric Delivery, will voluntarily initiate ‘Take a Load off Texas,’ (I feel a song coming on), a $100M program for a variety of energy projects, including $18.5mm for PV and solar hot water applications, which is expected to result in more than 785 kW of new solar power capacity in 2009.

“It’s an especially upbeat time for us in the renewable energy business. We’ve waited a long time for this.”

My soup is cold, but my optimism is sizzling.

To hear Russel’s enthusiam for yourself, you can reach him at 512.345.5446, or visit the TREIA website.


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