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Q&A with Austin Mayor Will Wynn

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willwynn1.jpgWill Wynn, the mayor of Austin, Tex., says he publishes his electricity bill in the paper to show how a little energy management can produce results. (It’s frequently below $50 per month.) Sure, we have Al Gore, and every trend-seeking celebrity waving the climate-change flag and driving a Prius, but we really need more likable public officials that are actually creating change in meaningful ways.

Mayor Wynn is just that. He has helped Austin become one of the leading cities for incubating clean-tech startups; the city now counts at least 25 of them, such as HelioVolt, as part of its local industry. He’s also trying to make sure clean tech stays in Austin: The city is working with HelioVolt on an economic incentives package to try to make sure the company’s manufacturing facilities stay local, for example. “We are spending a lot of time, effort and money in a targeted way to try to grow the clean technology sector here in Austin,” Wynn told us. His efforts are clearly resonating with Austin residents; according to his web site, he got over 78 percent of the vote in the most recent election. Oh yeah — and he walks to work. Below are excerpts from a conversation with Mayor Wynn.

Q. Why is the clean tech industry important for Austin?

A. It starts with the fact that Austin has a great tradition of a positive environmental perspective. It used to be focused on water quality and air quality, and now folks are becoming more aware that we need to talk about energy. We are truly a clean tech capital. We founded the Austin Clean Energy Incubator. Austin Energy is a beta lab for clean energy companies.

Q. There are a lot of debates about what clean energy options are viable. What are you excited about?

A. Well Texas blew past California in terms of wind. I’m also really interested in material sciences, smart appliances, computer chips. The tech sector will also play a huge role in this. There are fortunes to be made here. If we are smart, we are going to be right in the middle of the economic opportunity that combating global warming will offer. This will make a lot of people a lot of money.

Q. What do you think about carbon offsets; do you do these in your daily life?

A. We are actually in the process of creating a city-wide carbon footprint calculator that will focus on locally-based offsets for Austin, using local projects in the area. We’ve been waiting to roll that out, and it has been taking us awhile to create it. Hopefully we are weeks away from launching it.

Q. Austin leads in clean tech innovation, but when it comes to “a green city,” SustainLane said that Austin dropped in rankings “because the city remains heavily car-dependent, with ramifications for congestion and overall economic health.” What do you think about that criticism and are you doing anything to help the situation?

A. I agree completely. Transportation is far and away our biggest challenge. We will knock it out of the ball park for energy, but for transportation it is difficult and that is because of land use challenges. We are a sprawling metropolitan area. I use myself as an example: I moved downtown into a high-rise and dramatically reduced my car use, but ultimately it will take dramatically different land use patterns to have a viable mass transit options.

We are dramatically reassigning land use for every place we can. And there is opposition every time we try to do that. I am proposing an election for 2008, to have a significant passenger rail referendum.

Photo via Sprig.

7 Responses to “Q&A with Austin Mayor Will Wynn”

  1. It’s funny to hear the mayor talk about green energy and how much money it’s going to make a lot of people (who exactly?)

    When he was approached by Ethos Environmental, a publicly traded company whose products eliminate (yes, eliminate) CO emissions, while providing a net gain in mileage above cost (meaning, people save money by using their lubricant), he turned them down and wasn’t willing to even meet with them.

    Allied Waste in California has saved $34 million in the 6 years it’s been using Ethos in their vehicles, and has won the Earth Day award for reducing pollution and harmful emissions by 500 tons per year.

    If just 10% of Austin’s drivers used Ethos in their vehicles, 200 tons of carbon pollution will be prevented from entering the atmosphere every day! That is 73,000 tons per year!

    I’ve no idea how much money CapMetro is losing on every ozone day they offer, but I do know that if they started using Ethos in their buses, just like Allied Waste did in CA, they might be able to save enough money on gas and maintenance so that they won’t have to raise their fairs.

    And as for the mayor – I hope he could put his words into action – Use Ethos in the city’s vehicles, and reinvest the millions of dollars he’s save back into the city.

  2. Before getting too gushy about Will Wynn being “green”…

    Please take into account that Mr. Mayor and his council all but rubber-stamped a recent incident where Wal-Mart was granted permits by City of Austin to build the largest regional “supercenter” in the midst of a residential neighborhood in central Austin… without a single public hearing!

    Residents joined forces to sue for reconsideration of the permits, and the case is now going to trial:

    As a long-time Austin resident who recently moved back to California, I’ll agree that the local electric utility in Austin has been progressive. However, between the Wal-Mart fiasco and the fact that Austin tolerates hazardous levels of ozone pollution several months out of the year (its “Austin, A Clean Air City” moniker notwithstanding) one might laugh at hearing it called “Green”.