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Geothermal Showing It's an Emerging Energy
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Geothermal Showing It's an Emerging Energy

The Texas energy sector has benefitted tremendously from a diversified energy portfolio that has included oil, natural gas, wind, solar, coal, and nuclear power.

Barry Smitherman is the Chairman, President, and co-founder of the Texas Geothermal Energy Alliance (TxGEA), an organization dedicated to education, public awareness, and advocacy on behalf of the Texas geothermal industry. He joined The Crude Life to share how the oil and gas industry is working with geothermal energy.

The Texas Geothermal Energy Alliance (TXGEA) is a Texas-based, Texas-led advocacy organization created for the purpose of advancing geothermal energy in Texas.

“The Texas Geothermal Energy Alliance is comprised of a broad and interdisciplinary group of entities engaged in geothermal resource exploration, well drilling, plant construction, resource production and markets,” Smitherman said. “These supporters include representatives from the oilfield service sector, oil & gas operators, utilities, start-up companies working to advance geothermal relevant technologies, and leading scientists and engineers from a number of academic institutions across Texas.”  

The Texas energy sector has benefitted tremendously from a diversified energy portfolio that has included oil, natural gas, wind, solar, coal, and nuclear power. In addition to these resources, Texas is also fortunate to have a tremendous amount of undeveloped geothermal resources, which could be developed in the near term to decarbonize residential and industrial heating and cooling, as well as to produce reliable and secure baseload electricity.

“Geothermal had been gaining some traction because of advances in oil and gas drilling techniques, technology, workforce. And of course, Texas is the number one oil and gas state. And one of my roles that I occupied some 10 or 12 years ago was chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, which is the Texas oil and gas regulator, has nothing to do with railroads. So we saw advances happening in drilling,” Smitherman said. “We also recognize that because of winter storm Yuri, there was a need for a firm dispatchable energy resource and many customers, both individual electric customers, big corporations, data centers, Bitcoin miners want zero or low carbon electricity. So all those things came together.”

According to Smitherman, the intellectual capital of the Texas Oil & Gas Industry, including skill sets, assets, methodologies, and technological expertise, coupled with its highly skilled workforce, has been providing a pivotal advantage for fast industry growth and scale.  In turn geothermal resource development will provide new opportunities for the Texas oil and gas sector, leveraging core competencies while developing a virtually inexhaustible clean energy resource in the state.

“Paradigm shifting technology advancements within the oil and gas industry over the past decade, along with a significant increase in the number of oil and gas professionals engaged in geothermal ventures over the past years have enabled a new realm of possibilities to advance scalable geothermal concepts,” Smitherman said.

These advances, coupled with energy market incentives and a supportive legislative and regulatory framework will unleash the potential of geothermal energy in Texas, as well as position Texas as the global epicenter of next generation geothermal innovation.  TXGEA will work with various stakeholders and supporters to identify policy challenges and solutions, with the goal of scaling geothermal to its full potential in the State of Texas.

“The University of Texas led a multi-institution study on the future of geothermal energy,” Smitherman said. “It really is the state of the art study on the current situation and the future for Texas geothermal energy. And so we took all of those events and put them together.”

Barry Smitherman is an attorney, consultant, private investor, and active board member. He is the Chairman, President, and co-founder of the Texas Geothermal Energy Alliance (TxGEA), an organization dedicated to education, public awareness, and advocacy on behalf of the Texas geothermal industry. (www.txgea.org) Barry presently serves as an independent director of CenterPoint Energy, Inc. (www.centerpointenergy.com), a Houston-based electric and gas delivery utility serving almost 3 million electric metered customers in the greater Houston area and in southern Indiana, and 4 million natural gas customers in six states, including Texas. 

In 2023, Barry was honored by the Texas Law Alumni Association as a Distinguished Alumnus for Community Service. 

Barry is the immediate past Chairman of Brookwood in Georgetown (BIG), a God-centered vocational community that provides meaningful work, housing, and a sense of belonging, dignity and respect for adults in Central Texas with functional disabilities.  Our 'Citizens' are empowered to become artisians, bakers, gardeners, cardmakers, and much more. (www.brookwoodingeorgetown.org). 

Barry served on the Texas Railroad Commission from 2011 through 2014, and was Chairman of the Commission from March 2012 through August 2014. Initially appointed by Governor Rick Perry to a vacant seat on the RRC, Barry ran for statewide election, in November 2012, garnering 73% of the general election vote. In 2014, he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Texas Attorney General.

Prior to the RRC, Barry was on the Public Utility Commission of Texas, from April 2004 through July 2011, and was Chairman for the last four years of his tenure. During this time, he served two terms on the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Electricity Advisory Committee, the Board of Directors of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC,) was Chairman of the NARUC Gas Committee, the ERCOT Board of Directors, the Southern States Energy Board, the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission, and the Regional State Committee of the Southwest Power Pool.

Barry has also served on the boards of Ballet Austin, the Eanes ISD Educational Foundation, the Texas Public Finance Authority, the Harris County Health Facilities Development Corporation, and was Vice-Chairman of the Texas Advisory Panel on Environmental Regulations. 

Barry was formerly on the Board of Directors of NRG Energy, Inc., a large Texas-based independent power producer which also owns a number of retail electric providers active in the ERCOT market. (www.nrg.com)  Before joining NRG, he was a partner at Vinson & Elkins, LLP. 

Prior to beginning public service, Barry spent 16 years as an investment banker, holding leadership positions with J.P. Morgan Securities, The First Boston Corporation, and Banc One Capital Markets (now part of JP Morgan Chase), where he was a Managing Director and National Head of the Public Finance group.  During this time, he led the capital markets offering of over $7.5 billion in tax-exempt bonds and notes on behalf of state and local governments. 

Barry received his J.D. from The University of Texas School of Law, his M.P.A. from Harvard University, and his B.B.A. summa cum laude from Texas A&M University. He has been married for 37 years, has four grown children, and two adorable (and smart) granddaughters.

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