Austin Business Journal – Energy efforts get energized

November 29th, 2002  |  Published in Articles

By  Mary Alice Kaspar, Austin Business Journal Staff
Location of Article – Austin Business Journal
Original Article URL – Energy efforts get energized
Date – Friday, November 29, 2002

An Austin consulting firm has added some legislative firepower to its effort to court state lawmakers on behalf of the clean energy industry.

Good Company Associates Inc. has hired state Reps. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, and Bill Carter, R-Fort Worth. The retiring state lawmakers are serving as consultants until Jan. 14, the day after their replacements are sworn in. Maxey has been a member of the House Public Health Committee, and Carter has been a member of the House Energy Resources Committee.

Also, Wade Thomason was hired by Good Company earlier this month after three years as executive director of the Clean Air Force of Central Texas to work on clean air initiatives.

For the past decade, Good Company founder and President Bob King has been a one-man show. Over the past year, the company has boosted its staff to 12 — and is ramping up efforts to lobby the Texas Legislature when it convenes in January. King says proposals range from encouraging funding for programs to shifts in billing for electricity, and he thinks the company’s two new lobbyists will be a big asset in seeking passage of bipartisan legislation.

Good Company’s clients include Caterpillar Corp., Fuel Cells Texas, Excell Global Services Corp., Southern Union Gas Co. and Air Liquide America Corp.

“Right now, the State of Texas is faced with what seems like insurmountable obstacles for attaining clean air,” King says. “What we are offering are alternative ways that both save money and reduce pollution.”

King says a byproduct of the legislative initiatives will be to help support Austin’s growing clean energy industry. Central Texas is home to 80 clean energy companies and organizations that generate more than $250 million in annual revenue and employ more than 2,600 people, according to a recent study by issued by the Austin Clean Energy Initiative and the IC2 Institute.

To shed light on its initiatives, the Good Company will host a clean energy policy forum Dec. 4 at the Omni Austin Hotel. Panelists will include state lawmakers, industry executives and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency representatives.

King says Good Company will encourage legislators to approve roughly $200 million in funding for a program that replaces old, large engines — like the ones used by John Deere and Caterpillar — with new ones.

Good Company also will try to persuade lawmakers to require utilities to incorporate two to three natural gas-powered fuel cell generators over the next couple of years into their energy systems. Utilities might be asked to give rebates to customers that use fuel cells.

King says fuel cell generators are more expensive than other forms of energy because they are built individually. If the state encouraged the technology, King says, companies would mass-produce fuel cell generators.

Another initiative Good Company intends to take before the Legislature deals with meters that monitor electricity consumption. King will promote a wireless monitoring system that could be tracked and billed through computers.

Furthermore, King says changing the pay structure for energy use would encourage residential and commercial consumers to be more energy-conscious. He proposes a system much like long-distance telephone service works today, allowing consumers to choose a plan. Prices would be higher during peak demand times and lower during off-peak times. King says that sort of system would prompt businesses to supplement power through on-site generators, which often are more environmentally friendly.

An executive at a local wind power company says the state and federal governments can have an enormous effect on clean energy companies.

Walt Hornaday, president of Austin-based Cielo Wind Power LLC, says that aside from an electricity deregulation bill that passed in 1999, there’s little on the books in Texas that promotes the clean energy industry.

Hornaday says his company has been helped by federal production tax credits, which apply to wind projects operating by January 2004, although some observers expect the Bush administration to extend the date.

“I’d say our business would be much smaller and work at a much slower pace without those incentives,” Hornaday says.

Hornaday says the incentives mean customers will be able to buy energy at cheaper rates. One recent example is the expansion of a Cielo wind farm in New Mexico.

Earlier this month, Cielo signed a deal with Xcel Energy Inc., a Minneapolis-based electricity and natural gas company. The deal calls for Cielo to own, construct and operate two new turbines in New Mexico valued at $2 million.

A state lawmaker says energy issues have politicians’ ears, but it’s difficult to assess how high a priority the issues will be in the upcoming session.

“Those [clean energy] issues have been worked on continuously over the last 10 years or more and they are very important issues,” says state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. “Where everything falls out after the first 60 days is difficult to ascertain.”

An industry expert says legislative support is critical.

“While I think that the Central Texas region and Texas in general have a jump-start on the rest of the United States … at the end of the day we’re going to need incentives to show our support for these emerging technologies,” says Mike Tomsu, a partner who specializes in energy in the Austin office of law firm Vinson & Elkins LLP.

Email MARY ALICE KASPAR at (makaspar@bizjournals.com).