Each year, the Texas Energy Summit recognizes individuals, organizations, and companies that have demonstrated outstanding and/or unique contributions to clean air through energy efficiency and renewable energy actions or programs. Nominations are invited from the public for recognition of leading efforts that contributed to improving the impact of buildings and development on cleaner air and environmental quality for Texas and especially its urban regions.
The Texas Energy Summit, a project of Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Energy Systems Laboratory, this week honored nine organizations and individuals with awards. Congratulations to the following:
Gregg Cooke Award for Excellence in Environmental Leadership:
Elizabeth Love is an important part of the fabric of environmental work in Houston. She is a visionary leader who does her work quietly without fanfare. She has accomplished a ton but when commended, she will always give credit and praise to others, deflecting the limelight. Before her decade as senior program officer at the Houston Endowment, she was Director of Harris County Public Health’s Office of Policy and Planning and a fellow at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Elizabeth understands deeply how much pollution harms Houston and Houstonians and she has made it her mission to reduce emissions and increase quality of life for her fellow citizens. She built a strategy at the Houston Endowment that helped create the One Breath Partnership, a highly effective coalition the Energy Summit honored with an award last year. She helped bring dozens of organizations together to help create the Coalition for Environment Equity and Resilience, an invaluable coalition working to fix the inequities in disaster recovery and prevention. She was integral to the founding of the Healthy Port Communities Coalition working to reduce emissions at Port Houston. She brought together personnel from NGOs, the City of Houston, and Harris County to increase air monitoring and identify facilities that represent the highest risk to human health and safety.
All of this work takes on particular meaning as we deal with COVID-19, a respiratory disease exacerbated by pollution and affecting communities of color disproportionately. It is hard to imagine how many more would be sick or deceased without the effective strategies Elizabeth had the vision to create and the patience to support over the long run.
Lifetime Achievement Award:
The Honorable Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner
Commissioner Shea has earned this lifetime achievement award—with an acknowledgement that her work is far from done—and her vision will continue to create a greener future.
As Travis County Commissioner, she has led the effort to create the County’s climate plan, which includes electric vehicles. She also led the effort to get Tesla to agree to the environmental and community benefits in return for their tax abatement agreement with the County. She is co-chair of the Texas Electric Transportation Research Alliance’s regional transportation electrification compact, linking local governments from Austin to San Antonio and everything in between. She has spearheaded climate preparedness efforts including the first of its kind neighborhood based fire drill, which won the National Association of Counties Best in Class award. She co-sponsored and passed, with unanimous support, Travis County’s PACE program – the first PACE program in Texas, which has resulted in almost $4 million in energy and water saving investment in Travis County, and over $120 million in Texas. But those are just recent accomplishments. There are few people in Texas who have worked longer, harder, and more effectively than Commissioner Brigid Shea. For more than 35 years, Brigid has been involved in the causes of clean air and clean energy.
- She is chairwoman of International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an organization working to reduce climate change around the globe by harnessing the powers of local government to advance sustainability
- She is known as the visionary who co-created the movement to pass Austin’s Save our Springs ordinance in 1991, protecting Barton Springs for generations to come
- She was a participant in the Rio Climate Accords in 1991
- She was the director of Clean Water Action beginning in 1988 and continues to serve on the Board. There, she played a critical role in the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality by organizing and directing outreach efforts to citizens that pressured the legislature to pass the needed legislation.
- As Austin City Councilmember, she helped shift Austin Energy’s direction toward becoming one of the nation’s greenest and cleanest electric utilities through efficiency and renewable energy. Specifically, she pushed for passage of Austin Energy’s first wind deal in the mid-1990s.
- After retiring from City Council, worked as a consultant on the 10 year-long Austin Clean Water Program, which cleaned up the city’s leaking sewer lines in most of its creeks. The program won numerous EPA awards and was listed as one of the top infrastructure projects in the nation;
- Co-founded a small consulting business, Carbon Shrinks, which advised large Carbon emitters how to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions; One of her projects, with a cement manufacturer, won the TCEQ environmental excellence award;
- She has been and continues to be a mentor to many women seeking political office
Outstanding Government Official:
The Honorable Erin Zwiener, Texas State Representative
For the first time ever, a caucus of the Texas Legislature created a climate plan. It was created by the House Democratic Caucus and called the Special Committee on Clean Air, Clean Water, and Climate Change. The committee was chaired by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood), and today we honor her both for an excellent first session in the Texas Legislature in 2019, and for her leadership of this effort. Rep. Erin Zwiener took a risk to chair the committee. Dealing directly with climate change at the Texas Legislature is rarely done. Rep. Zwiener stepped up to chair the committee after a freshman session knowing she would need to run again in a purple district. She was courageous and her constituents rewarded her by sending her back to Austin for another term where she will work on additional elements of the climate plan. By showing that climate and clean air are issues Texans want their elected leaders to work on, Rep. Zwiener has made a difference and blazed a trail for more legislators in both parties to follow. This award is given not only in recognition of what Rep. Zwiener and the committee have done, but of the work in the days, months, and years ahead, to see this vision through.
Outstanding Commercial Enterprise:
By now, virtually everyone knows Tesla is building a billion dollar giga factory in Eastern Travis county near Del Valle. In this factory, they will build its new semi-truck, a cybertruck called the model “Y”, and batteries. It will employ more than 5,000 people. It’s a visionary deal between the Travis County Commissioners Court and the Del Valle School District that will bring environmental and economic benefits to eastern Travis County. In addition to building zero emission vehicles Tesla is committed to building a zero net energy plant. They are covering the roof with solar cells and buying green energy from utilities to make up for any extra power they need. In addition, the new factory will be built at the site of an old sand and gravel mine, on the banks of the Colorado River. They plan to have a boardwalk along the river where there’ll be a hiking and biking trail. They plan to make it an ecological paradise, open to the public, in an “under-parked” area of eastern Travis County. They will work with Capitol Metro to develop a plan to connect with existing and planned rapid transit. Tesla met with affected communities before finalizing the plan, and made substantial commitments to hiring local people, training local students in the neighboring schools and community colleges on electric vehicle technologies, and committed to hire at least 51% of its workforce locally. They have committed to contracting with historically underutilized businesses, and investing in local community organizations serving the needs of east side residents. Tesla’s announcement has accelerated the electric vehicle movement in Texas into hyperdrive and we’re excited to honor their historic investment in Central Texas.
Clean Air Champion:
Fighting the legacies of environmental and institutional racism is not for the faint of heart. Living day to day in the realities of the physical pain and hardship caused by pollution would test anyone. Bakeyah Nelson is a difference maker in the lives of many in Houston. She is a tireless advocate for communities that have been historically marginalized but refuse to continue to be marginalized. She strengthens their voices by connecting them to each other and to the policymaking process from which they have previously felt, or in fact have been, excluded. Bakeyah understands what their options are and how to turn the anger and disappointment of citizens into action. Concrete batch plants emit cement dust and other particle pollution. After learning that a company planned to operate a concrete batch plant next to homes and a park in Acres Homes, Air Alliance Houston alerted and organized residents to engage with decision-makers, while Lone Star Legal Aid prepared community members to participate in a state hearing to contest the operational permit. One day before the hearing, the company withdrew its permit application. Less than two weeks later, another company withdrew a permit to operate a concrete batch plant in Aldine, in the middle of a public meeting Air Alliance Houston organized to oppose it. In less than four years, Bakeyah has elevated Air Alliance Houston, expanding its reach and guiding it to become a research and policy powerhouse. She has a clear vision for the organization, centered on health and equity, and made tremendous hires that allow a small organization to punch above its weight. Not only has she had massive success at Air Alliance Houston, she was pivotal in the founding of the Coalition for Environment Equity and Resilience (CEER Houston), a coalition that has spearheaded the efforts for equitable response to Hurricane Harvey and to resilience initiatives to make future storms less deadly and costly. Bakeyah is committed to improving the lives and health of many of Houston’s most marginalized citizens. Folks who work hard but aren’t often at the table when policy decisions are made.
Clean Energy Champion:
Jim Marston is the founding Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Texas office, and a champion for clean energy and clean air long before that. In fact, Jim started his career as an Assistant Attorney General working in the Environmental Protection Division. As the director of the EDF Texas office, Jim played a massive role in many of the defining energy issues that Texas has faced. He helped design and advocate for the Renewable Portfolio Standard which started Texas’ wind boom when it was included in Senate Bill 7 in 1999. He also pushed for the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard which was part of that same bill. Later he successfully advocated for an expansion of the renewable standard and the legislation that paved the way for new transmission to bring renewable energy to market. He fought hard against the proposed buildout of coal plants about 15 years ago, and he has been a leader in promoting distributed energy resources like rooftop PV and energy efficiency. He’s been an adviser or board member for the Texas League of Conservation Voters, Texas Rural Legal Aid, the Texas Ethics Commission, and the Texas Observer, just to name a few. Jim is one of only a few people to win multiple awards from the Texas Energy Summit, a reflection of the important role he’s played as friend and mentor to so many in the clean energy and environmental communities. We wanted to honor him at this particular time, as his long tenure at EDF ended last month but his work in this space has not.
Outstanding School District:
After attending a session in April 2019 where a presentation on electric school buses was provided, Jason Gillis of Everman ISD raced to learn all he could about the technology, checking with other districts who had pioneered the technology around the country to evaluate whether it would meet district needs. Jason put together an application to the Volkswagen Trust Fund by June of that same year. This quick action has resulted in the first deployment of electric school buses in Texas, with buses rolling last month. Jason and the team at Everman ISD put themselves on the leading edge of transportation electrification in Texas and will be a model for all other districts statewide to look to. Fleets can be risk-averse and hesitant to adopt a new technology until one of their own has blazed the trail and provided an example. By stepping out in front and taking the brave action to be ‘the first’ in Texas, Jason and Everman ISD have taken on that role of being the mentor and champion statewide. Electric motors are inherently more efficient and less polluting machines than internal combustion engines. While operations have just started and results can’t be quantified yet, electric bus operations will result in both tailpipe and well to wheels reductions in criteria pollutants, Greenhouse gases, and overall energy consumption. Everman ISD is in a very elite group of early adopters nationwide! Their leadership, and Jason’s leadership, is critical to moving the needle and improving air quality in Texas.
Outstanding School District:
School districts use a lot of energy. That energy, with our current mix of electric generation, causes pollution and all of us as taxpayers pay the bills. As many school energy managers say, every dollar they save on energy is a dollar that can go to teachers, books, computers—in a word, learning. Many school districts work hard to reduce these costs and we try to honor at least one each year at the Summit. In recent years we honored the Texas Energy Managers Association for their work to train the energy management workforce, add credentials for these hard working folks, and help school districts save on energy and other utility costs. Over the last two years, Judson ISD has completed energy efficiency projects that will save them over 440kW (enough to power 60-70 homes on a hot day), and 1.7m kWh annually (equal to about 100 homes over the course of year). Judson ISD has also been a leader in the CPS Commercial Demand Response program, tallying over 9.9 MW of peak demand curtailment the past two years combined. That is an astounding amount of peak demand for one district. Judson ISD was assisted in achieving these savings by CPS Energy and their partner CLEAResult.
ESL Partner of the Year:
The Energy Systems Laboratory not only produces research on air quality and clean energy, they also implement projects in the field, including a massive project at Houston Airport System underway now. To do this work, ESL depends on an ecosystem of companies and each year the Lab honors one of those partners. DFW Consulting Group is a full-service Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing engineering consulting firm with 30 years of experience delivering exceptional service and sound engineering practices. Since 1989, DFW has delivered more than 5,000 projects in a range of industries, including: Aviation, Broadcast, Defense, Education, Municipal, and Mission-Critical facilities. DFW employs a repeatable, but not repetitive method of precise execution and has the knowledge to engineer systems for any type of space from small to large. DFW is committed to being a leader in sustainable design practices and remains at the forefront of the latest technologies. The ESL is currently working with DFW Consulting on a variety of projects including preliminary Energy Assessments for City of Houston and Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Condition Assessment and Cooling/Heating Capacity at IAH Central Utility Plant and a $28.4 Million Capital Improvement and Energy Efficiency Upgrade Project at Houston Airport System.
Click the links below to see the previous recipients for each award.
*The Awards Committee reserves the right to make modifications in award categories appropriate to recognizing each year’s outstanding achievements; may recognize achievements in any, all or none of the categories; and may designate additional categories for special recognition.