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Anna Clark

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Dallas Ratings Spike in Renewables, Too

Posted: 07/02/2012 6:14 pm

This op ed was written in association with The Op Ed Project

Dallas is back on prime time, and in more ways than one. The black stuff spewing from the gusher in the season premier may be pure fiction -- Texas oil fields are hundreds of miles away from Dallas -- but the TV producers portray at least one truth: Dallas has an abundance of wealth and energy resources. And we're getting smarter about how to use them.

The Lone Star State continues to boom in fossil fuels, but with 10,000 megawatts of wind power capacity and the nation's highest solar potential, we're also one of America's largest producers of renewable energy. This paradox makes our region exceptionally relevant as the country seeks to maximize domestic resources while planning for the transition to a cleaner energy infrastructure.

The City of Dallas has, in fact, led the sustainability push in Texas, purchasing 40 percent of its power from wind energy and becoming one of the first two cities in the U.S. to adopt an all-building green ordinance.

As the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area and home to approximately 20 Fortune 500s, Dallas-Fort Worth is a sizable market with a unique capacity to commercialize clean technologies. Dallas-based Principal Solar, Inc., the world's first distributed solar utility, is one notable innovator in renewable power.

In transportation, Half Price Books was the first to install a public electric vehicle charging station in its parking lot, and energy retailer TXU recently unveiled two more chargers at Dallas City Hall. Houston-based eVgo, partnering with national retailers such as Walgreens and Cracker Barrel, has also installed six Freedom Stations in the region, some of which include level three chargers, giving EV drivers up to 50 miles in 15 minutes. Such companies are helping us adjust to the transition to electrification and other 21st century technologies.

As a lifelong Dallasite, I'm aware that our culture is steeped in relentless consumerism -- an American problem, not just a Texan one. But key leaders in this community are proof that we don't have to wait for government intervention or natural disaster to turn the ship around, and that's a fitting observation so close to the centenary of the Titanic, the ultimate man vs. nature story.

We still wonder how such a feat of human ingenuity could sink so rapidly as it did on April 12, 1912. Why weren't there more lifeboats? Why didn't more survivors row back to rescue those left freezing in the water? People don't appear to make rational decisions in the midst of an immediate crisis any more than they do in the midst of an environmental one. Ignorance, apathy and greed still define the human condition today as it did back then.

Nevertheless, beyond the tragic are riveting exemplars of the heroic, from Second Officer Charles Lightoller to the unsinkable Molly Brown. Titanic enthusiasts know that these sensational stories overshadow many more untold stories amongst the less known. This is how sustainability works. Many people are working in the trenches, unceremoniously buying local, shopping for organic, starting victory gardens and helping others do the same. Here in North Texas, there are homegrown and unsung heroes, like Elizabeth Dry, a public school teacher who launched the Promise of Peace Garden, and Jeanne McCarthy, who leads the non-profit Real School Gardens. Both these leaders are introducing community gardens to impoverished children in North Texas.

Local financiers are using some of their financial prowess to support the sustainability movement, too. Earth Day Dallas, launched by Trammel S. Crow, Jr., scion to a commercial real estate fortune that rivals the fictional wealth of J.R. Ewing, has become an annual event and is now second in size only to New York City's event. JR himself, a.k.a. Larry Hagman, was a speaker at Earth Day Dallas' inaugural event.

And then there is T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire who is spearheading legislation to transition hauling trucks to natural gas, a cleaner burning and necessary, if controversial, domestic energy source.

As with many disasters, human error is as much to blame as equipment failure. To minimize risk, whether it's the Titanic or the Deepwater Horizon, each person must exercise responsibility when doing their part. To prepare local talent for responsible leadership, pioneering academic institutions including Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Arlington have launched graduate programs in sustainability. Schools such as Cedar Valley College are training workers for jobs in renewables.

And for our citizens, the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture recently hosted a conference on Reinventing Fire, the groundbreaking book on bold business solutions for the new energy era by the Rocky Mountain Institute. Over 120 key leaders came to hear from RMI's CEO Michael Potts, sustainability experts, and clean tech execs.

Dallas' thinkers and doers are creating the groundswell needed to bring about large-scale transformation. Quelling our region's titanic misuse of natural resources won't happen overnight, but as J.R. Ewing once said, "You can't cross a bridge until it's built!" Here in Dallas, we're rolling up our sleeves and applying our can-do spirit to keep on building.

Anna Clark is president of EarthPeople and author of Green, American Style. She lives in one of the first residences in Dallas to earn a Platinum-LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

 
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