With its blend of biotechnology, conservation, and education, RioRaiz seeks to inspire a new generation of conservationists. Photo via RioRaiz/Instagram

For centuries, humans have been negatively impacting the natural world around them. A Houston organization is looking to leave an impact on the environment — but this time for the better.

Based in Houston, RioRaiz is a 501c3 nonprofit organization charting a unique course in the world of conservation and education. Founded in March of 2021, RioRaiz – meaning "root of the river" in Spanish, a nod to its deep-rooted connection with South American culture – seeks to preserve biodiversity through biotechnology and offer transformative learning experiences to contribute to a healthier planet.

Led by Jeff Carlson, the president and CEO, RioRaiz's mission is driven by three core pillars: conservation, scientific discovery, and education.

Currently, the nonprofit's efforts are focused on regions on the edge of ecological disruption, specifically the East Texas area and the Tropical Andes. In Texas, the organization aims to expand the biome of the Big Thicket National Preserve in Kountze as well as engaging locals by hosting clean-up drives. In the Andes, RioRaiz aspires to establish biological corridors between national parks and natural reserves, diminishing potential disruptions to animal migration patterns.

The timeline for these critical initiatives, Carlson said, hinges on donations.

"We have a list of priorities that is cataloged from input from our scientific collaborators, as well as our ability to deliver on our promises to our donors and supporters,” Carlson said.

Partnerships form a critical role in RioRaiz's work, notably those with academic institutions in the United States and Colombia. One of these collaborations saw Carlson spend three months in Colombia, working with the local Páez tribe, also known as the Nasa, to explore the potential of their traditional medicines for modern treatments.

"We're really excited to learn and to share our techniques and our knowledge," Carlson said, underlining the organization's commitment to partnering with traditional and indigenous knowledge sources.

With its blend of biotechnology, conservation, and education, RioRaiz seeks to inspire a new generation of conservationists. By offering an intimate virtual glimpse into the world's biomes, the nonprofit aims to instill a deep-rooted respect for nature and encourage sustainable action.

"If you expose students to these different kinds of environments at an early age, that might inspire somebody to go into conservation," Carlson said.

With a progressive effort, RioRaiz is harnessing the power of virtual reality to redefine education. The organization uses specialized filming equipment during its expeditions, capturing moments like the discovery of new species or conducting bio surveys. RioRaiz's visually compelling stories will surpass language barriers, transporting students virtually to different biomes. In time, Carlson hopes to distribute pre-loaded systems to communities with limited internet access, taking the classroom to every corner of the world. These virtual reality experiences are expected to launch within the next year.

"We want to bring the rainforest into the classroom," Carlson said.

Through its work, RioRaiz aims to demonstrate that the route to a sustainable future lies not just in face-to-face interactions, but in a global, interconnected approach to education and conservation. Its vision is clear — to grow far beyond traditional reaches, preserving biodiversity and fostering a healthier world.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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Op-Ed: To protect the Texas grid, help Texans protect themselves

guest column

On the evening of May 16, a devastating “derecho” storm howled through Houston. Nearly 800,000 customers lost power. Many were still without electricity days later, as a heat wave baked neighborhoods that couldn’t power air conditioners.

It was yet another unwelcome reminder about the precariousness of the power grid.

These outages followed repeated grid warnings, conservation calls, and near-misses last summer and the summer before, as well as the catastrophic Winter Storm Uri freeze in February 2021.

The outages also preceded the increasingly extreme weather Texas faces and staggering growth on the ERCOT grid: after growing about 1 percent a year for 20 years, the power grid covering most of Texas may need to be 78 percent bigger by 2030.

So, this latest incident is more than a sign that Houstonians must take control of their power. It also shows that more and more, the state needs you to act.

Like any other market, a power grid runs on supply and demand. The supply of Texas energy is growing, which is great. At the same time, the economy is booming, leaving Texas setting demand records almost constantly. Generators can’t always keep up, especially when power plants break down or don’t produce electricity — there’s about an 18 percent chance that Texas will face at least one grid emergency this summer.

With odds like that, it’s no wonder that more and more Texans are finding ways to live more powerfully. Many are investing in solar panels and energy storage devices like Tesla Powerwalls.

These systems let families and business owners generate electricity during the day, store it, and use it later when there’s an emergency or just when power is scarce. They protect people from high bills and blackouts; it’s no coincidence that just since last month's storm, we've seen a five-fold increase in leads, reflecting a huge growth in interest in solar power. Further, since the storm, 90 percent of new Houston-area solar customers have bought backup battery systems, compared to 50 percent in 2024 and less than 25 percent in 2023.

That pattern has repeated across the country after severe weather events.

Homeowners and business owners can also slash their bills by weatherizing houses and buildings, the way power plants did after Uri. Advanced devices that help people automatically, and voluntarily, reduce electricity use when the grid is stretched would also help.

These improvements and investments would help more than just homeowners and business owners — they’d help the entire power grid. Every kilowatt that someone doesn’t need or can generate themselves frees up power for other families and businesses across the grid. That helps Texas keep the lights on, especially if electricity demand is about to spike as dramatically as the state expects.

Texas already incentivizes conservation and generation at a large scale. For example, large users like manufacturers and crypto miners get paid by ERCOT for reducing electricity use when the grid is stretched. And just last year, the legislature passed a $10 billion program to help fund new gas power plants.

It’s past time to extend similar incentives to everyday Texans, especially when we’re increasingly called upon to help ERCOT keep the lights on.

If crypto companies get money for reducing electricity use when ERCOT asks them to, then residential and business customers deserve to get paid too. The state could help Texans invest in technologies and smart metering programs that cut bills andautomatically reward people for reducing use on the hottest afternoons and coldest mornings.

More than that, the state has got to do more to reward solar customers who generate electricity and return it to the grid when demand rises. These virtual power plants will increasingly provide vital power when the state badly needs it, and consumers need to be rewarded for it. (Fortunately, the state is looking at strategies to take better advantage of virtual power plants.)

Finally, if Texas is helping big generators build gas plants, it should figure out ways to help regular Texans install solar panels and battery storage units. Such systems obviously help protect Texans from power outages, but they also fortify the ERCOT grid by reducing the demand on it.

Last month’s derecho was exactly the sort of freak occurrence that will become more common as the weather grows more extreme. The best way to protect the grid from such catastrophes is to protect individual Texas customers as well.

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Bret Biggart is CEO of Freedom Solar Power, a Texas-based solar company.


Houston company expands JV to build new power generation, storage assets

team work

Houston-based Conduit Power is broadening the scope of its joint venture with Oklahoma City-based Riley Exploration Permian.

Under this deal, the joint venture, RPC Power, will build power generation and storage assets for the sale of energy and related services to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the power grid for the bulk of Texas.

RPC Power, established in March 2023, owns and operates power generation assets that use Riley Permian’s natural gas to power its oilfield operations in Yoakum County, located in West Texas.

The expanded relationship will enable RPC Power to sell power and related services to ERCOT, with plans for 100 megawatts of natural gas-fueled generation and battery energy storage systems across facilities in West Texas. The facilities are expected to start commercial operations in 2025.

In conjunction with the expanded scope, Riley Permian bumped up its stake in RPC Power from 35 percent to 50 percent. Furthermore, it plans to sell up to 10 million cubic feet per day of natural gas to RPC Power as feedstock supply for the new generation facilities.

"Our JV expansion at RPC Power represents a significant milestone for our company, and we are proud to build upon our successful partnership with Riley Permian,” Travis Windholz, managing director of Conduit, says in a news release.

Conduit, a portfolio company of private equity firm Grey Rock Investment Partners, designs, builds, and operates distributed power generation systems.

Riley Exploration Permian specializes in the exploration, development, and production of oil and natural gas reserves, primarily within the Permian Basin.

Elon Musk sees more resistance against his multibillion dollar pay package

just say no

A second shareholder advisory firm has come out against reinstating a pay package for Tesla CEO Elon Musk that was voided earlier this year by a Delaware judge.

ISS late Thursday joined Glass Lewis in recommending against the package, recently valued by the company at $44.9 billion but in January had a value of about $56 billion.

Shareholders of the electric vehicle and solar panel company are voting on the package, with the results to be tabulated at Tesla's June 13 annual meeting.

ISS said in its recommendations on Tesla's proxy voting items that Musk's stock-based package was outsized when it was approved by shareholders in 2018, and it failed to accomplish board objectives voiced at that time.

The firm said that Tesla met the pay package’s performance objectives, and it recognized the company's substantial growth in size and profitability. But concerns about Musk spending too much time on other ventures that were raised in 2018 and since then have not been sufficiently addressed, ISS said.

“The grant, in many ways, failed to achieve the board’s other original objectives of focusing CEO Musk on the interests of Tesla shareholders, as opposed to other business endeavors, and aligning his financial interests more closely with those of Tesla stockholders,” ISS wrote.

Also, future concerns remain unaddressed, including a lack of clarity on Musk's future compensation and the potential for his pay to significantly dilute shareholder value, ISS wrote.

Musk plays big roles in his other ventures including SpaceX, Neuralink and the Boring Company. Last year he bought social media platform X and formed an artificial intelligence unit called xAI.

Last week the other prominent proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis, also recommended against reinstating Musk's 2018 compensation package. The firm said the package would dilute shareholders' value by about 8.7%. The rationale for the package “does not in our view adequately consider dilution and its long-lasting effects on disinterested shareholders,” Glass Lewis wrote.

But in a proxy filing, Tesla said that Glass Lewis failed to consider that the 2018 award incentivized Musk to create over $735 billion in value for shareholders in the six years since it was approved.

“Tesla is one of the most successful enterprises of our time,” the filing said. “We have revolutionized the automotive market and become the first vertically integrated sustainable energy company."

Tesla is struggling with falling global sales, slowing electric vehicle demand, an aging model lineup and a stock price that has tumbled about 30% this year.

Tesla asked shareholders to restore Musk's pay package after it was rejected by a Delaware judge this year. At the time, it also asked to shift the company’s legal corporate home to Texas.

Glass Lewis recommended against moving the legal corporate home to Texas, but ISS said it favored the move.

California’s public employee retirement system, which holds a stake in Tesla, said it has not made a final decision on how it will vote on Musk’s pay. But CEO Marcie Frost told CNBC that as of Wednesday, the system would not vote in favor. CalPERS, which opposed the package in 2018, said it will discuss the matter with Tesla “in the coming days.”

In January, Delaware Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled that Musk is not entitled to the landmark stock compensation that was to be granted over 10 years.

Ruling on a lawsuit from a shareholder, she voided the pay package, saying that Musk essentially controlled the board, making the process of enacting the compensation unfair to stakeholders. “Musk had extensive ties with the persons tasked with negotiating on Tesla’s behalf,” she wrote in her ruling.

In a letter to shareholders released in a regulatory filing last month, Tesla Chairwoman Robyn Denholm said that Musk has delivered on the growth it was looking for at the automaker, with Tesla meeting all of the stock value and operational targets in the 2018 package. Shares at the time were up 571% since the pay package began.

“Because the Delaware Court second-guessed your decision, Elon has not been paid for any of his work for Tesla for the past six years that has helped to generate significant growth and stockholder value,” Denholm wrote. “That strikes us — and the many stockholders from whom we already have heard — as fundamentally unfair, and inconsistent with the will of the stockholders who voted for it.”

Tesla posted record deliveries of more than 1.8 million electric vehicles worldwide in 2023, but the value of its shares has eroded quickly this year as EV sales soften.

The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles from January through March, nearly 9% fewer than it sold in the same period last year. Future growth is in doubt and it may be a challenge to get shareholders to back a fat pay package in an environment where competition has increased worldwide.

Starting last year, Tesla has cut prices as much as $20,000 on some models. The price cuts caused used electric vehicle values to drop and clipped Tesla’s profit margins.

In April, Tesla said that it was letting about 10% of its workers go, about 14,000 people.