Testimony before Harris County Commissioners Court on 100% renewable energy

Here is the testimony I delivered to the Harris County Commissioners Court calling on the county to embrace 100% renewable energy. 

Jen Schmerling

Here is the testimony I delivered to the Harris County Commissioners Court calling on the county to embrace 100% renewable energy. 

Hello, my name is Jen Schmerling and I’m the deputy director of Environment Texas, a non-profit advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces. Thank you, commissioners, for the opportunity to speak here today. I’m here to talk about what the county can do to lead the way on solar power and clean energy.

I believe that everyone has the right to access clean sources of energy that don’t pollute the air and that don’t contribute to global warming. 

In the last year, as you all know, our region has seen a rash of air-polluting incidents from the petrochemical industry. From the ITC fire to Exxon Mobil’s Baytown explosion, to the most recent TPC explosion, our petrochemical industry — the infrastructure dedicated to and built by fossil fuel producers — has harmed the health of possibly thousands of people.

And we know that the extreme flooding our region has seen, with four 500-year floods in five years, has been exacerbated by the carbon emissions from transportation, industry, and power generation.

I’m here to address that power generation component. Solar power is clean (it emits nothing), pays for itself, and is not subject to price variations the way that fossil fuels can be. The cost of solar has come down over 70% in the last decade, and companies and public entities all over the country are realizing that solar power is a smart and cost-saving option. In order to meet our growing population’s growing electricity demand, Harris County should invest in solar power. Today I delivered to each of your offices a letter, signed by prominent environmental community members, asking for three specific actions:

First, to purchase 100% renewable power for county operations through a long-term contract with a developer. I’d like to thank Commissioner Garcia here for his leadership in purchasing renewable energy credits for the next year. For Harris County’s next power contract, you can more directly invest in the growth of renewables by signing a long-term contract with a solar or wind developer. The City of Dallas and Port Houston have both signed such contracts recently, and by doing so have locked in super low electricity rates for years to come.

The second action is to develop and publicize a financing option for residential buildings. Harris County already has property assessed clean energy financing for commercial buildings, which is a model developed by the Department of Energy. The next step is to partner with a local bank or credit union, at little or no cost to the county, to offer homeowners long-term low-interest loans for installing rooftop solar. The City of Austin has partnered with Velocity Credit Union to do this, and it has increased the rate of growth for rooftop solar there, saving residents money and spreading clean energy throughout the city.

The last action is to install solar and battery storage at county buildings, creating energy savings and emergency centers in times of need. Visibility matters, and installing solar panels on community centers, offices, libraries, and other public buildings will let our residents know that Harris County is taking the energy transition seriously. Adding battery storage will provide clean, fume-free power to residents or essential operations during hurricanes or other emergency events.

Harris County is the third-largest county in the nation, and home to some of the worst chemical and climate disasters in recent memory. I ask today that the commissioners take further leadership on the issue of clean energy, and set an example for every other large metropolitan area in the country. Thank you again.


Jen Schmerling