The plant has the capacity to provide the city with over 400 million gallons of clean drinking water daily due to the state-of-the-art intake pump system located 900 feet from the shore of Lake Houston. Photo courtesy of the Mayor's Office

City of Houston takes step toward resiliency with $1.7B project milestone

resiliency on tap

A new project that will increase Houston's resilience in the face of climate change-driven storms has delivered.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Public Works and other water provider organizations celebrated the newly operational Northeast Water Purification Plant Expansion, which is the culmination of a $1.7 billion project.

The multi-year construction project began in 2017. The plant has the capacity to provide the city with over 400 million gallons of clean drinking water daily due to the state-of-the-art intake pump system located 900 feet from the shore of Lake Houston.

“Eight years ago, the city of Houston joined with four regional water authorities to invest over $1.7 billion to build what would become the largest public works water construction project in the nation,” Turner says in a news release. "The Northeast Water Purification Plant is an essential part of our city's infrastructure and growing resilience to the effects of climate change.”

The city of Houston partnered with the North Harris County Regional Water Authority, the West Harris County Regional Water Authority, the North Fort Bend Water Authority, the Central Harris County Regional Water Authority, the Texas Water Development Board, and many others. The Northeast Water Purification Plant is located in Humble, Texas.

Houston Public Works is responsible for, production and distribution of water, collection, and treatment of wastewater, and permitting and regulation of public and private construction, and streets and drainage.

“By increasing the City’s capacity to treat surface water and reducing dependence on groundwater, the project helps mitigate the risks associated with ground subsidence, such as increased flooding, damage to our roads, and other infrastructure issues,” Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock says in a news release.

CenterPoint Energy and the Gulf Coast Community Services Association are now accepting applications for the new program. Photo via centerpointenergy.com

CenterPoint Energy, Mayor Turner join forces for $1M energy assistance for Houston residents

giving support

In the season of giving, a Houston energy company has played Santa Claus with a special deliver for underserved Houstonians.

CenterPoint Energy announced a $1 million contribution in Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s name towards energy bill assistance that assists low-income residents. The donation will go to a local nonprofit organization Gulf Coast Community Services Association, or GCCSA, which will manage and distribute the funds.

“Given Mayor Turner’s selfless commitment and outstanding service to our city for the past eight years, this felt like a fitting way to celebrate him and build upon his legacy of helping others across our communities,” CenterPoint Energy CEO Dave Lesar says in a news release. “Throughout his entire career in elected office, Mayor Turner always recognized the importance of supporting underserved neighborhoods and neighbors, and this contribution in his name will make a positive lasting impact.”

Today, December 4, GCCSA will begin accepting applications for energy assistance for low-income residents or families living in CenterPoint Energy’s service areas. Applicants can apply online.

“It has been an incredible honor to serve our great city for my eight years in office, “Turner says in a news release. “It also has been a privilege to collaborate with corporate leaders like CenterPoint Energy and impactful nonprofits like GCCSA to help the community members who need it most.

“I am deeply grateful for the countless partnerships and initiatives benefiting Houston during my incredible journey as mayor. Together, we were able to do great things.”

Earlier this summer, CenterPoint also donated $100,000 to Galveston residents by way of nonprofit Vision Galveston. The program was designed to reduce energy consumption and cut utility bills through projects like HVAC tune-ups, as well as installation of ceiling insulation, LED light bulbs, solar screens, and low-flow showerheads.

Need a RYDE? The city voted to provide funding to expand the electric vehicle initiative. Photo via Evolve Houston

City approves funding for EV rideshare service in underserved communities in Houston

ryde-ing in style

The city of Houston approved $281,000 funding for the expansion of free electric vehicle rideshare services in communities that are considered underserved by utilizing services like RYDE and Evolve Houston.

The funding will be dispersed to RYDE in through the nonprofit Evolve Houston.

“It’s exciting to see a Mayor and City Council get behind a true eco-friendly initiative aimed and providing critical transportation needs for underserved communities,” Evolve Houston President and Executive Director Casey Brown says in a news release. “The program has seen amazing success in the Third Ward and now another historically underserved community will be able to benefit from a service that gets residents to and from in-town destinations for free.”

Rideshare service RYDE has been operating in Houston’s Third Ward since June with almost 3,000 passengers per month being served. The services will expand beyond Third Ward through Houston Complete Communities, which is a citywide initiative to bring innovation and assistance to the city’s underserved communities.

The two new vehicles are expected to hit the road early December, as well as the continued service of two vehicles in Third Ward.

“The positive aspects of expanding RYDE’s EV transportation initiative beyond Third Ward are twofold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner says in the release. “The environmental impact of the low-emission vehicles coupled with the vital service it provides to underserved neighborhoods makes this a win-win decision for the City of Houston and its residents who are faced with transportation challenges. This funding decision is in lockstep with Houston’s Climate Action Plan and the intention behind the Complete Communities initiative.”

Evolve Houston was founded in 2018 through Houston’s Climate Action Plan and relaunched last year. They recently released a Grant Tracker, which aims to make it easier to find funding opportunities, and assist with current grants available to organizations and individuals that are committed to a goal of zero emissions. The tracker serves as a tool to assist with purchasing an EV and charging equipment. Ultimately, Evolve wants to assist and fund those looking to make the transition to electric. Evolve continues to evolve its sphere of influence, the company still aims for equity, and its goal to have half of the vehicles in the city be electric by 2030.

“Houston maintains some of the lowest population density and longest commute distances of major U.S. cities and we have an immense amount of business and goods that flow through Houston,” Brown says. “ We see a landscape that can uniquely achieve larger financial and environmental benefits of EV technologies.”

"I am proud of the city that I shall pass forward." Photo courtesy of the city of Houston

In final State of the City speech, Houston mayor addresses resiliency, energy transition efforts

turner's legacy

For his eighth and final time, Mayor Sylvester Turner delivered the State of the City address last week, and he highlighted some of the gains within his tenure.

"We are greener, more compassionate, more united, and more forward-moving than we can ever imagine," says Mayor Turner. “What I can say to Houstonians is that I have given you my best, and I am proud of the city that I shall pass forward.”

At the event, which boasted a sold-out crowd of 1,500 Houstonians, Mayor turned announced some of the initiatives he's most proud of accomplishing and revealed release of “A Winning Legacy,” a book detailing his legacy.

“Together, we have faced many storms – seven federally declared disasters in eight years. From floods or a freeze, from a Super Bowl or the pandemic, we rose and met the challenges of our times,” says the mayor in his speech. “From inequities in neighborhoods investments to billions of dollars in pension unfunded liabilities, from One Safe Houston to One Clean Houston, we confronted each issue head on and set the city on firmer footing.”

Mayor Turner goes on to name the other storms that hit Houston during his tenure, and how resiliency and the energy transition became major themes of this office.

"We are the energy capital of the world," he says to the crowd. "We purchase more renewable energy than any other city in the United States. ... We lead the country in renewables."

In the address, Mayor Turner mentions his work on a project, announced last year, to convert a former landfill into a solar farm.

"The Sunnyside Solar Farm, which will be the largest urban solar farm in the country, will be operational by 2024," he says.

Mayor Turner wraps up his speech, which is available in its entirety on the city's YouTube page, with noting that he is leaving the next mayor — who will be decided in next month's election — with a $420 million surplus. When Mayor Turner was elected in 2015, the city had a $160 million deficit.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner celebrated the opening of the renovated City Hall basement that was damaged in Hurricane Harvey. Photo via houstontx.gov

Photos: City of Houston makes $4.4M facilities upgrades with sustainability, resiliency in mind

built for the future

Where some might see just a basement, Mayor Sylvester Turner sees an opportunity to tell a story of Houston's resiliency and dedication to sustainability.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, it left 18 to 20 inches of floodwaters in the basement of Houston City Hall. The city received funding from FEMA to support the $4.4 million renovation project that commenced in 2020. After facing challenges — including a defaulted contractor — the city revealed the new space this week, which was completed by contractor Dunhill Construction.

The basement includes 18 works of art that each are an "ode to Houston." Photo via houstontx.gov

"The City Hall Basement renovation is a testament to the resilient spirit of Houston," says Turner in the news release. "We encountered some challenges, but we've revitalized this space while preserving our history and embracing innovation. This space truly embodies our commitment to a sustainable future."

The new basement holds conference rooms, training facilities, and a wellness center that was donated by Cigna. The project was focused on implementing sustainability and efficiency and included replacing aging air handling units with more efficient technology, LED lighting equipped with sensors to avoid energy waste, and a sliding floodgate to prevent history from repeating itself should another storm hit Houston.

The new space includes training facilities.Photo via houstontx.gov

The project also incorporated 18 pieces of Houston-focused art by artists including Mark Chen, Syd Moen, Nancy Newberry, and David Reinfeld. The 49 Houston mayor portraits, which were rescued by a staffer during the storm, were conserved, reframed, and rehung.

The space will also be the home to Houston's first walk-in 311 center, per the release, and the 311’s Continuity of Operations Plan, or COOP, and will be a secondary location in case the main call center fails.

With the completion of the project, the city has a few more upgrades — including additional training facilities, the mayor's dining room, and kitchen — coming soon and set to be completed in November.

Cigna donated a wellness center as a part of the renovation. Photo via houstontx.gov

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Houston startup taps new corporate partner for AI-backed sustainability consumer tech

out of the boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston software company to manage IRA compliance for solar, storage company with national presence

tapping into tech

Houston company's Inflation Reduction Act compliance management software has scored a new partner.

Empact Technologies announced a multi-year agreement with Ampliform, which originates, builds, develops, and operates utility-scale solar and solar plus storage projects. The Empact platform uses a combination of software and services to ensure projects meet IRS regulatory requirements, which focus on wage and apprenticeship, domestic content, and energy and low-income community incentives. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed

Empact will partner specifically with Ampliform’s project Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) firms, subcontractors, and key suppliers of steel and iron products. In addition, they will work through a project’s life cycle for EPC’s solar modules, trackers, and inverters to manage prevailing wage & apprenticeship, domestic content, and other tax incentive qualification and compliance.

“The team at Ampliform had the leadership and foresight to recognize the significant risks of IRA non-compliance and the need to have third party compliance management in place prior to construction kick-off," Charles Dauber, CEO and founder of Empact, says in a news release. We look forward to helping Ampliform fully leverage the IRA tax incentives to develop and build their project development pipeline.”

Ampliform has approximately 700MW of projects in short-term development. Ampliform also plans 3GW of projects in its development pipeline. Ampliform’s future expansion plans exceed more than 13GWdc in total. Empact will manage the IRA compliance for these projects. According to a Goldman Sachs report, the IRA is estimated to provide $1.2 trillion of incentives by 2032.

Guest column: Cold weather and electric vehicles — separating fact from fiction

EVs in winter

Winter range loss is fueling this season’s heated debate around the viability of electric vehicles, but some important context is needed. Gasoline cars, just like their electric counterparts, lose a significant amount of range in cold weather too.

According to the Department of Energy, the average internal combustion engine’s fuel economy is 15 percent lower at 20° Fahrenheit than it would be at 77° Fahrenheit, and can drop as much as 24 percent for short drives.

As the world grapples with the implications of climate change and shifts toward sustainable technologies, it's important to put the pros and cons of EVs and traditional gas vehicles in perspective. And while Houston isn't known as the coldest of climates, you still might want to review this information.

The Semantics of Energy Consumption Hide the Real Issue: Cost

First, let's talk about the language. When discussing gas vehicles in cold climates, the conversation often centers around "fuel efficiency." It sounds less threatening, doesn't it? But in reality, this is just a euphemism for range loss, something for which EVs are frequently criticized.

Why does that matter? Because for most drivers who travel less than 40 miles a day, what range loss really means is higher fueling costs. When a gas vehicle loses range, it costs a lot more than the same range loss in an EV. For example, at $3.50 a gallon, a car that gets 30 MPG in warm weather and costs $46.67 to go 400 miles suddenly costs $8.24 more to drive the same distance. By contrast, an EV plugging in at $0.13 per kWh usually costs $13 to go 400 miles and bumps up to a piddly $16.25 even if it loses 20 percent efficiency when the temperature drops.

Some EV models lose 40 percent in extreme cold. OK, tack on another $3. That still leaves almost $30 in the driver’s pocket. Over the course of a year, those savings pile up.

Let’s Call It What It Is: Fear Mongering

Any seismic shift in technology comes with consumer hesitancy and media skepticism. Remember when everyone was afraid to stand in front of microwaves and thought the waves would make the food unsafe to eat? Or how, just a decade or so back everyone was talking about how cell phones could spontaneously explode?

Fear of new technology is a natural psychological response and to be expected. But it takes the media machine to turn consumer hesitation into a frenzy. Any way you slice it, 2023 was one big platform for expressing fears around EVs. Headline-grabbing tales of EV woes often lacked context or understanding of the technology. In a highly partisan landscape where EVs have been dubbed liberal leftist technology, what should be seen as a miraculous pro-American, pro-clean-air, pro-energy independence, pro-cost saving advancement is getting a beating in the press. In this environment, every bit of “bad EV news” spirals out into an echo-chamber of confirmation bias.

For example, Tesla’s recent software update was hyped as a 2 million vehicle “recall” even though the software was updated over the air without a single car needing to leave the driveway. Hertz's recent decision to reduce its Tesla fleet was seen by many as a referendum on the cars’ quality but was actually a decision based on Hertz’s miscalculations around repair costs and a mismatch in their projections of consumer demand for EV rentals.

While the cost of repairs might be higher, maintenance and fuel costs are still much lower than gas vehicles. EVs are better daily-use cars than rentals because while our country’s public charging infrastructure is still lagging, home charging is a huge benefit of EV ownership. Instead, the Hertz move and the negative coverage are further spooking the public.

The Truth About EVs

Despite the challenges, it's crucial to acknowledge the environmental advantages of EVs. For instance, EVs produce zero direct emissions, which significantly reduces air pollution and greenhouse gasses. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EVs are far more energy efficient than gas-powered cars, converting more than 77 percent of electrical energy from the grid to power, compared to 12-30 percent for gasoline vehicles.

This efficiency translates to a cleaner, more sustainable mode of transportation. And stories of EVs stranded in Chicago aside, generally they perform well in cold weather, as clearly demonstrated in Norway. In Norway, the average temperature hovers a solid 10 degrees lower than in the U.S. Yet 93 percent of new cars sold there are electric. The first-ever drive from the north to the south pole was also completed by an electric vehicle. The success story of EVs in Norway and demonstration projects in harsh winter climates serve as a powerful counterargument to the notion that EVs are ineffective in cold weather.

So where does this leave us? The discourse around EVs and gasoline vehicles in cold weather needs a more balanced and factual approach. The range loss in gasoline vehicles is a significant issue that mirrors the challenges faced by EVs. By acknowledging this and understanding the broader context, we can have a more informed and equitable discussion about the future of automotive technology and its impact on our environment.

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Kate L. Harrison is the co-founder and head of marketing at MoveEV, an AI-backed EV transition company that helps organizations convert fleet and employee-owned gas vehicles to electric, and reimburse for charging at home.