Panel Explores Community Engagement’s Crucial Role in the Energy Transition
As the world transitions to energy-abundant, low-carbon energy solutions, industry, government, academia, key stakeholders, and community groups will need to work together to ensure an equitable future. Building community engagement and equity was one of several topics of discussion during virtual sessions of the Future of Global Energy Conference hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership’s Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI) and Center for Houston’s Future (CHF).
The conference is an annual gathering of business, academic and civic leaders who share a commitment to Houston’s global energy leadership and path toward an energy-abundant, low-carbon future. The inaugural conference was in 2021 when the Partnership launched the strategy that guides HETI.
Since then, HETI has established focus areas or working groups to advance efforts within several sectors where Houston has a strategic advantage, which includes Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCUS), clean hydrogen, capital formation, industry decarbonization and power management. In addition, HETI has identified four critical initiatives necessary to move the energy transition forward: workforce development, innovation and technology, policy and funding opportunities and community engagement and climate equity.
During the virtual session on community engagement and climate equity, community-based organizations, leaders in stakeholder engagement, and industry players shared their work and how they’ve engaged with HETI to strengthen best practices.
“We’re only as resilient as the most vulnerable in our community,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. Turner has led many initiatives that have strengthened the city’s work related to energy transition. “We are moving in the right direction by building on inclusivity,” he said.
HETI is working with the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) and Sallie Greenberg Consulting to create a framework that guides industry on implementing effective community engagement.
“It’s time to have hard conversations and create a shared vision about what change really means and move forward in a way that is beneficial to as many people,” said Sallie Greenberg, Principal of Sallie Greenburg Consulting, and panelist.
John Hall, President and CEO of HARC, Susan Amodeo-Cathey, Director of Energy Transition Programs, Policy and Alignment at Air Liquide, and Bolivar Fraga, Senior Manager of Civic Engagement at BakerRipley, also participated in the panel discussion.
The discussion centered on challenges and opportunities to improve community engagement before implementing new plans or projects in communities, especially in disadvantaged or underserved communities.
“We have to figure out how we change some of our longstanding processes that we think are outreach and engagement that our community members may not see that way,” Amodeo-Cathey said.
Fraga and Hall echoed those sentiments. Hall said energy companies, the business sector and government have the opportunity to collaborate and innovate equitable climate solutions for all.
Panelists also discussed the jobs the energy transition will create and how companies can create opportunities for community members. According to the HETI strategy report, the Houston region could gain up to 560,000 jobs by 2050 by supporting low-carbon technologies, industrial investments, innovation ecosystems, government policies and reskilling of talent.
“The energy transition is going to bring new jobs, so we have to make sure that those jobs reflect our community,” Amodeo-Cathey said. One example of how Air Liquide is doing this type of work is with its U.S. subsidiary Airgas’ high school training program that teaches students new and advanced welding skills.
UpSkill Houston, HETI and CHF are working with Accenture to assess the workforce needs in the hydrogen sector, with the goal of its serving as a model for other sectors. That study and the community engagement framework are expected to be released later this year.
Learn more about how Houston is leading the global energy transition.