New Economy cities: Houston aims to move beyond the oil age
Houston is banking on its strong ties to the global marketplace and renewable energy to move beyond the oil age.
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Then there is the Texas Medical Center, which may be Houston’s version of the Great Pyramids, only with windows and an antiseptic smell. More than $3 billion is going into expanding the Med Center’s footprint from 30 million to 40 million square feet – making it larger than the size of the area inside Chicago’s Loop. The complex currently serves up to 65,000 patients a day, says Richard Wainerdi, the CEO.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, even with the port, the medical center, and NASA, the petrochemical industry remains the flywheel of the economy – accounting for about half the area’s total output. Eager to be in the vanguard of the New Economy, city officials are trying to redefine Houston as more than just an oil and gas capital. They want it to be an energy capital – including renewables.
Last summer, for example, Houston became the No. 1 municipal purchaser of green power in the nation, with 25 percent of the city’s total electricity load coming from wind energy. (Texas leads the US in wind-energy production.) But some economists caution against teaching an old dog too many new tricks.
“For years, alternative-energy people have been saying we need to change,” says Ronald Welch, an economist in the Institute for Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston. “Thirty years ago, alternative energy constituted 3 percent of energy use in the United States. Today it constitutes only 6 percent.”