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Cooper Center bringing green tech, training to West Side


A&M students installing their award-winning off-grid ‘groHome.’ (Texas A&M Photo)


Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

When former Mayor Phil Hardberger and his eco-logical aide-de-camp Larry Zinn cranked out Mission Verde, an economics-based sustainability plan for Alamo City, back in the waning days of Hizzoner’s Era, they put quiet hopes in the city’s abandoned school houses.

With numerous schools closed across the city, and more expected to be added to the list of shuttered district properties this year, the pair saw opportunity for the vision of decentralized power.

Through the school houses, the city would be able to connect with homeowners at a neighborhood level and demonstrate alternative building models, train weatherizers and solar installers, partially power neighborhood homes with photovoltaic installations on the schools' roofs, and even help spur the local-foods movement by planting the empty fields.

Hardberger coaxed $1 million in federal energy efficiency grant money through the Council to fund a green tech demonstration center. But in the minds of leading CPS Energy executives, Board members, and some on Council, such efforts would always play second-string to the planned expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear complex.

What a difference a year makes.

Next week, the same day CPS Energy (with the nuke project all but dead for San Antonio) finally heads to court to face off with nuke-expansion partner NRG Energy in a $32-billion lawsuit, a new mayor will take up the Verde charge.

On Monday, Mayor Julián Castro is expected to dedicate a green-tech demonstration and training center on the city’s West Side at the former Cooper Middle School, 1700 Tampico Street. Thus will begin the multi-party project involving a long string of clean thinkers from the City, UTSA, Alamo College, SAISD, Texas A&M, Texas Engineering Experiment Station, and local utilities SAWS and CPS.

A centerprice of the Cooper Center will be Texas A&M’s School of Architecture’s award-winning groHome: a zero-energy, solar-powered modular house now installed at Cooper (above left, SACurrent). Built by pioneering students at A&M, displayed at the National Mall for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition in 2007, and reassembled for display at the George Bush Presidential Library, the groHome — rechristened SuCasa, Sustainability Urban Center for the Advancement of San Antonio — will serve as more than inspiration.

“You can then use it in multiple ways to explore other technologies and teach,” said Jorge Vanegas, dean of the A&M’s College of Architecture. “Part of what we’re trying to do is [see] how can you actually bring to the application-level sustainability, not in terms of just green and theory and good wishes, but how can we use it as a transformational opportunity for communities to take care of themselves.”

With just days away to dedication, further details were hard to come by Thursday. Calls to Alamo College’s point man on the project were passed along to the Mayor’s office, where calls were not immediately returned. But one thing is certain — this is where Verde has to go.

Community green-power centers like the Cooper Center, when hitched to a soon-to-be established city program expected to allow all income levels to receive loans for solar power and energy efficiency upgrades — loans which can in turn be paid off through the energy savings realized by the homeowner — have the potential to forever change the way San Antonio is powered.

Good to see the better aspects of the waning Hardberger days begin to wax with Castro.


Posted by gharman on 1/21/2010 5:36:04 PM
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