Solar Austin Happy Hour: Electrified Mass Transit with Capital Metro

Sustainability and climate action require much more than just solar, so we’re branching out to spend time on another very important topic this month – public transportation. Transportation accounts for about a third of local greenhouse gas emissions and will be the largest source once Austin Energy is able to retire its portion of the coal-burning Fayette power plant.

So how do we make a dent in all that pollution? And how can we reclaim some of our time (and sanity) lost sitting in Austin’s ever worsening traffic? High capacity, rapid, convenient public transportation offers a solution. This has been an elusive goal for Austin over the years, but Cap Metro, with the support of the City of Austin, is making another go at it in the form of Project Connect. The vision for Project Connect is an interconnected system of public transportation options that connect people to jobs, education, healthcare and the places they love. This system will include fully dedicated transitways, enhanced MetroRail service, MetroRapid corridors, and more Park and Ride facilities. We’ll hear all about Project Connect from Joe Clemens, Deputy Project Manager at Capital Metro.

But that’s not all! Cap Metro is also working to electrify its fleet of buses. This is great news for everyone concerned about local air pollution, as well as climate change, because emissions from diesel vehicles, including buses is particularly harmful. Electric bus technology is now able to serve many of Cap Metro’s bus routes and will soon be able to serve the whole system. Rob Borowski, CapMetro’s Sustainability Officer, will present on the electrification initiative.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 from 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM 
Scholz Garten (1607 San Jacinto Blvd)

Joe Clemens is Deputy Project Manager at Capital Metro. He takes the bus or train everyday between his apartment in Crestview and Capital Metro’s downtown office. “I regularly use the 801 and Red Line. I also use transit into and out of downtown during the weekend.” You may have seen Joe hanging out at one of his favorite music live music venues — Stubbs, Mohawk, Parish, Scoot Inn or Emo’s. Some of his other local faves include Austin’s walkable downtown, Town Lake, Greenbelt, food trucks and craft beer. Joe serves as Capital Metro’s Deputy Project Manager for Project Connect, the region’s high-capacity transit plan. He’s also a representative on the City of Austin’s Housing+Transit+Jobs Action Team, which is focused on equitable development along MetroRapid and MetroRail. 

Prior to Capital Metro, Joe worked in the private sector for 15 years and completed several projects in the alternative analysis/environmental impact study stages of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New Starts process. He’s also managed four bus rapid transit alternative analysis studies in El Paso that received FTA Small Starts funding.  Joe, who grew up in Philadelphia, recalls taking SEPTA buses between his home and high school, starting his freshman year. He also lived in Chicago for three years, where he didn’t own a car. “The elevated ‘El’ train between Chicago’s CBD loop and my Northside apartment was a convenient, congestion-proof way to get to work. Great views too!”

Rob Borowski is Cap Metro’s Sustainability Officer. Rob has been immersed in environmental issues for more than 20 years as coordinator for the Environmental Science Institute, assistant director for University of Texas’ Center for Sustainable Development, coordinator of the Clean Texas program at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and as the first manager for environmental affairs at HEB. He holds Master of Science degrees in community and regional planning and environmental management.

Key Career Accomplishments:
• Coordinated university research center initiatives to implement multidisciplinary watershed research efforts, and integrated facilities-based energy conservation efforts.
• Coordinated efforts to implement a multi-year, strategic planning effort for the Galveston Bay Estuary involving local, regional, state and federal agencies and stakeholders.
• Developed Clean Texas, the first voluntary pollution prevention and sustainability program for cities, federal facilities, large and small businesses, universities and other organizations of its kind, to be co-coordinated and recognized by the state of Texas and the EPA.
• Managed environmental affairs and implemented the first environmental strategic plan for Texas’ largest private employer, H-E-B Grocery.

Solar Austin Happy Hour! Superpower: One Man’s Quest to Transform American Energy

For our September happy hour, acclaimed author and journalist Russel Gold will share the story of an audacious attempt to build the largest renewable energy project in the United States right here in Texas. Any transition from a North American power grid that uses mostly fossil fuels to one that is predominantly clean requires a massive building spree—billions of dollars’ worth.

Enter Michael Skelly an infrastructure builder who began working on wind energy in 2000, when many considered the industry a joke. Eight years later, Skelly helped create the second largest wind power company in the United States—which was sold for $2 billion. Wind energy was no longer funny; it was well on its way to generating a substantial percentage of the electricity in the United States.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 from 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM 
Scholz Garten (1607 San Jacinto Boulevard Austin, TX 78701)

About Russell Gold: 

As a senior energy reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Russell Gold has reported on energy regularly since 2002. His coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was honored with a Gerald Loeb Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The San Francisco Chronicle called The Boom, Gold’s first book, “the best all-around book yet on fracking.” His follow-up effort, Superpower, tells the story of an urgent quest to transform America’s energy future. Gold lives in Austin, Texas, and BookPeople carries both of his books locally.

RSVP here.

Getting There:
Please consider taking the bus to the happy hour. There are many buses within easy walking distance of Scholz Garten. Plan your trip here. If you drive, State Parking Garages can be found next to, behind, and across from Scholz Garten. San Jacinto Blvd., 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and Trinity have parking garage entrances.

Support the Cause:
Although our happy hours are free and open to all, we hope you’ll consider donating to Solar Austin.  Help us keep solar energy growing in the Austin area.  You can purchase a ticket to the happy hour or use the donate button here on our website to avoid fees.


Solar Austin Community Workshop on Expanding Access to Solar

We’re doing something a bit different this month. Instead of our regular happy hour, Solar Austin is hosting a community workshop to gather input on the topic of expanding access to solar.

In September, a team that will include Austin Energy staff, a couple members of the Solar Austin board and other solar policy experts will participate in a workshop hosted by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). This team of seven will focus on identifying ways to expand access to solar in Austin. We know that many renters and lower-income residents, particularly from communities of color, haven’t been able to take advantage of the direct benefits of solar energy.

The goal of the Solar Austin workshop will be to gather community input to help guide the team at the RMI workshop in September. We want to help develop solutions that address the needs, concerns and aspirations of the community.

Huston–Tillotson University has graciously offered to host this event and Solar Austin will provide food and drink.

WHAT: Solar Austin Community Workshop on Expanding Access to Solar
WHEN: Tues., Aug. 27, 5:30 dinner and networking, 6:00 presentation and discussion groups
WHERE: Dickey-Lawless Science Building at Huston–Tillotson University (#1 on the map)

RSVP is appreciated, so we know how much food to buy.

In addition to a short presentation to share the basics about solar and some sample programs, we’ll have facilitated group discussions to try to determine:

  • level of awareness about solar among lower-income residents
  • the main barriers that keep lower-income residents from accessing solar
  • any barriers specific to people of color
  • aspects of solar energy that excite people most
  • the most important features of a new solar program

Anyone who wants to contribute to this work is welcome, but we especially hope to get more people of color, renters and lower-income residents involved in this conversation because those are the groups that have been underserved by the current solar programs.

Ensuring equity in access to solar energy and other climate solutions is an important aspect of climate justice. Solar Austin is committed to making the benefits of solar energy accessible to everyone in the Austin community.

We hope you’ll join us and bring a friend, family member or neighbor who falls into one of the underserved customer groups.

Getting there: Huston–Tillotson University can be accessed by several bus lines. If you drive, there is free street parking on Chalmers Ave and Chicon St, and in the Huston-Tillotson parking lot off Chalmers St between 8th St and 9½ St.

2019 Solar Austin Summer Solstice Celebration

We are excited to invite you to Solar Austin’s second annual Summer Solstice Celebration! Please join us to celebrate our precious solar resources and community advocacy for renewable energy on the longest day of the year.

WHAT: 2019 Solar Austin Summer Solstice Celebration
WHEN: Friday, June 21, 5:30 – 9:00 p.m.
WHERE: Sauce Odyssey (1403 E 7th St)

We’re passionate about solar policy and technology, but we also like to have fun. Join us at Sauce Odyssey to celebrate and unwind! We will have live music free beer (courtesy of Texas Beer Company), free cider (courtesy of Texas Keeper Cider), and solar car racing for the kids (and fun-loving adults). Sauce Odyssey has delicious food – including vegan options – and an inviting shady location with plenty of seating, hammocks and games.

Come have fun, eat, and drink, while getting to know other members of our community of advocates right here in Austin.

We look forward to celebrating the solstice—and community—with you on June 21st!

NOTE: We won’t have our regular happy hour event in June.

Solar Austin February Happy Hour: Tour of Austin Central Library Green Features

We’re switching things up a bit for our February happy hour.  We won’t be at Scholz Garten this month, so don’t go there, or you’ll be lonely.

Instead, we hope you’ll join us for an expert-guided look at the green features – including the on-site solar energy system – of the Austin Central Library. This LEED Platinum-certified building opened late October 2017 has the distinction of being the first new building with a solar array on the downtown sector of the electric grid, which comes with added complications.

Because we want to do the tour before it gets dark, we’ll be starting our program a bit earlier than usual. The presentation will start at 5:45, but please join us even if you’ll be a bit late.

Tuesday, February 26, 5:30-8:00 p.m.
Where: Demonstration Area 1st floor Austin Central Library (710 W Cesar Chavez St)
RSVP now!

The lead architect Jonathan Smith, of Lake Flato Architects, and solar designer Bungane Mehlomakulu, of Integral Group, will be leading the tour and discussion.

Get more information and RSVP here.

We hope to see you at the library!

Solar Austin Board of Directors


More about the Speakers: 

Jonathan Smith, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is an Associate Partner at Lake Flato Architects. Jonathan’s designs foster meaningful and lasting relationships between building occupants and the natural environment, demonstrating excellence in the art of building, the science of sustainability and love for the natural landscape. Jonathan has a strong passion for transformative projects that have an impact beyond their property lines through environmental sustainability, performance-based design and response to climate. Jonathan was Project Architect on the LEED Platinum 180,000 square foot new Central Library in his hometown of Austin, Texas. In 2018 the Austin Central Library was named one of Time Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places. Jonathan is currently working on projects in Texas, California and Hawaii.

Bungane Mehlomakulu, PE, LEED AP BD+C, is a Managing Principal at Integral Group in Austin. Bungane is a design principal working at the boundary between architecture, engineering, and sustainability to deliver a balanced, efficient, and meaningful services to customers and clients. His passion for sustainable building design and operation made him an expert in passive strategies including natural ventilation, daylight harvesting, plug load reductions, and solar control and the application of energy efficient technologies, including radiant floors, displacement ventilation, and chilled beams.