ENERGY SECURITYHow Texas Is Playing a Major Role in the Race to Develop Clean Energy Technologies

By Alejandra Martinez

Published 13 April 2024

The federal government is pouring billions of dollars into developing clean power sources. In this conversation hosted by The Texas Tribune in Houston, panelists discussed how Texas companies are playing a major role in emerging technologies like hydrogen and geothermal.

Texas is known as an energy powerhouse, largely driven by its massive oil and gas industry. But amid the challenges posed by climate change, some in the state are pushing for Texas to be a national leader in clean energy too.

During a conversation in Houston on Thursday, energy experts and academics spoke with Texas Tribune climate reporter Emily Foxhall about the billions of dollars that the federal government is pouring into solutions to provide clean power sources and how Texas is playing a major role in development of emerging energy technologies including hydrogen, and geothermal.

Texas energy companies are increasingly investing in hydrogen as a potential game-changing fuel for transportation, said Brett Perlman, CEO of the nonprofit Center for Houston’s Future. Perlman said Texas has major advantages in developing hydrogen: the state has the majority of the country’s hydrogen pipelines, a highly-skilled and knowledgeable workforce, and the natural gas and renewable energy needed to produce it.

He said hydrogen can be produced from natural gas, which emits greenhouse gases that have to be captured and stored to reduce its impacts on climate change, or by separating hydrogen from water using renewable energy.

Hydrogen can make us green, not only in decarbonizing our energy sector and showing the rest of the world how it can be done, but it can also bring jobs and economic growth to our economy,” Perlman said.

The Biden administration has made big investments in hydrogen, offering tax credits to support hydrogen production. The government is also investing billions of dollars in seven regional clusters of projects or “hydrogen hubs.” Projects in Texas and Louisiana that planned to make hydrogen largely from natural gas are getting up to $1.2 billion.

Critics of hydrogen have expressed concerns about its use of fossil fuels, which could help boost the oil and gas industry.

Robert Bullard, founding director of the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University, warned against deploying risky and unproven technology without properly studying its potential impacts, particularly on vulnerable communities nearby.

“If we are to proceed and move forward at warp speed, there needs to be more caution. There needs to be more data, so that we do not make the same mistakes of the past,” Bullard said, referring to the expansion of the petrochemical industry along the Gulf coast.

Another emerging technology is geothermal energy, which involves drilling deep underground and pumping water into hot rock, creating steam that can generate electricity.

Sarah Jewett, vice president of strategy for Fervo Energy, a company developing geothermal technology, acknowledged two of the big challenges with geothermal energy: potential water pollution and increased seismic activity caused by drilling.

It is not an operation without risks,” she said, adding that while the technology could help solve a global problem — climate change — her company is focused on making sure that in the communities where they operate, it’s “at worst benign, rather than detrimental.”

We’ve basically taken a stance that if what we’re doing impacts the community in a negative way, the accounting doesn’t shake out,” Jewett added.

Bullard, known by many as the father of environmental justice, said he’s seen no proof that hydrogen will benefit communities of color that commonly sit next to industrial areas, adding that companies need to engage and consult with residents who live near their projects ahead of time to address their concerns.

While we’re talking about moving fast and furious and forward with climate solutions, communities are still having to live with pollution,” he said. “We have to talk about how we ensure that as we transition to a clean energy economy, that we don’t build this new economy, on a flawed, unequal system.”

Alejandra Martinez is the Texas Tribune a Dallas-based environmental reporter. This story is published courtesy of the Texas Tribune.The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.