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Houston: Where "Big Oil" and "Big Green" Meet

With roughly 128,000 fossil fuel economy jobs in recent Census records, metropolitan Houston has the nation’s largest regional workforce in the fossil fuels industries. Yet, it is becoming a leader in the clean economy.

Glimpses of this can be seen in gradual shifts in infrastructure and consumption. Looking at data from the National Renewable Energy Lab (downloaded), Houston has more electric-vehicle charging stations (13) than any metro outside California, except Portland, Oregon, and it is in the top-20 for hybrid-electric vehicle purchases.

More directly, jobs in fossil fuel firms are being starting to exist alongside a growing number of jobs in clean economy firms. A recent article by Solve Climate News describes Houston’s success in sustaining and attracting green stars like Vestas (wind energy), NeuTex Advanced Energy Group (led lighting), and NRG Energy (electric vehicles charging).

According to the article, these companies were not lured by corporate bribes, but rather market generating rules that recognize the public goods provided by the clean economy. Government procurement of vehicles is oriented towards hybrid and electric cars; the municipal utility contracts for renewable energy; green building resolutions promote environmental standards.

Moreover, Vestas—the Danish wind turbine maker--implies that Houston’s cluster environment was a big reason they selected Houston over hundreds of other options. A senior vice president at Vestas told the reporter that proximity to customers and top research universities was important, as was a highly qualified workforce with engineering skills from related fields. With Rice and the University of Houston, the metro has nine PhD programs in clean-relevant engineering and science fields--the eighth highest nationally.

Houston’s recent successes are very interesting to those of us at the Brookings Metro Program who are working on clean economy issues. Next month, we’ll release new data on the clean economy that identifies Houston as a major clean economy cluster--in wind and a variety of other activities. We’ll argue that clusters serve an important role in bolstering job growth. Houston illustrates that nicely.