Jennifer Granholm's Roundtable Event at Greentown Labs in Houston

The event kicked off with an introduction by Dr. Emily Reichert. Reichert leads Greentown Lab’s Houston climate technology initiative. Initially based in Boston, MA, Greentown Labs is a cleantech incubator that helps electrical, agricultural, and industrial startups. The program’s participating startups have collectively created around 6,500 jobs and had a $1.6 billion regional economic impact.

The Houston location opened its doors just this year. Houston was selected due to its commercial climate. Cleantech startups can only have an impact at scale, and these startups require the commercial environment that is found in Houston. Additionally, local effects of climate change have been increasingly felt in Houston, revitalizing the city’s commitment to leading the charge against climate change.

After a brief introduction, Reichert directed attention to Secretary Jennifer Granholm, the second woman in history to lead the department of energy and moderator for the event. Granholm opened by reiterating the Biden administration’s strong commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 while also creating jobs. With fossil fuels being such a large component of the energy industry, Granholm acknowledged the need for a thoughtful workforce transition and stressed the administration’s belief that there is great economic opportunity and an immense workforce potential within the green sector. Granholm proceeded to call upon each roundtable participant for a statement.

Rep. Jackson Lee: Congresswoman Lee emphasized the importance of connecting low-income and minority communities with clean energy opportunities. She called upon the administration to continue its efforts in commercializing existing research to combat climate change. Lastly, she stated her support for Houston as a cleantech hub considering their already existing energy infrastructure.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia: As Rep. Garcia’s district has many construction workers, her primary focus was jobs and providing support to all workers to ensure that they support the coming clean energy transition. For the clean energy transition to occur, it is not enough to direct industry at a high level. Rather, it is critical that workers be included at every step and that policymakers acknowledge that workers’ livelihoods and families are at stake. Most importantly, training needs to be provided to these workers early on to assure them of their professional futures. I really appreciated Rep Garcia’s statement. One of the things often missing from climate discussions is support for those currently working in the non-renewable sector. But without these workers’ support, the cleantech industry will not have the necessary workforce or public support. Workers must embrace the green industry and know that they will not be left behind.

Sommer Harrison: Harrison provided a great example of an area in which training support is critical for success. Working in the weatherization sector, Harrison is acutely aware of the effects of a lagging workforce and subsequent hurdles. Weatherization training is a complicated training program. Assessors must be specially trained. Many contractors are not used to weatherization, and they are also facing significant materials shortages. Harrison called on Secretary Granholm and the Biden administration to provide funding to develop the weatherization workforce and address the current materials shortages. Lastly, Harrison discussed equitable rehabilitation via the energy transition and requested that the public energy audit tools be updated to reflect an accurate ROI for the weatherization of a home.

Gretchen Watkins: The last speaker was Watkins, speaking on behalf of Shell. Shell has recently committed to net 0 emissions by 2050, a bold move for a company whose products aren’t exactly low carbon. Nonetheless, Shell supports the green energy transition and, rather than viewing it as a threat to their bottom line, views it as a challenge. Watkins spoke about a number of technologies such as hydrogen as a solution in heavy transport, carbon capture & sequestration, and carbon pricing. In addition, Watkins stated that the competencies seen in oil & gas are the same that will be utilized in carbon capture and sequestration with regards to jobs. Thus, she does not view the transition as a threat to the American workforce.

The summaries in this post are from the speakers whose messages resonated with me the most. Others also had great messages. Check out the entire event here to hear statements from all the participants, including Mayor Sylvester Turner!

All in all, it was an exciting event. However, the panel paid an excessive amount of attention to electric vehicles and solar as solutions. While they are certainly a component of the green tech industry, their inclusion and emphasis without even mentioning the biofuels sector created an imbalanced picture of the emerging green energy & transportation industry. Furthermore, the term “bioeconomy” was not mentioned. Not even once. More on this later. Stay tuned.

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