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An Unlikely Bastion of Renewable Energy

Led by a Republican mayor, a Texas city defies politics and goes all-renewable

Posted on Oct 19 2017 by Scott Gibson

Texas is conservative oil and gas country, but that hasn't prevented city officials in Georgetown, Texas, including its "good little Republican" mayor, from moving the city-owned electric utility to an all renewable future.

The city of 64,000 some 25 miles north of Austin decided two years ago to source all of its electricity from renewable sources. Long-term contracts with a wind farm 500 miles away in Amarillo, plus a solar farm in west Texas that will be completed next June, will allow the city to meet its 100% renewable target, according to an article posted by The Guardian.

Georgetown is not alone in rejecting fossil fuels as a source for energy — Burlington, Vermont, became the country's first city to get all of its power from renewable sources last year, thanks to a combination of biomassOrganic waste that can be converted to usable forms of energy such as heat or electricity, or crops grown specifically for that purpose., hydro, and wind.

But left-leaning Burlington is a university town in a left-leaning state that produced Democratic presidential contender and sustainable energy advocate Bernie Sanders. Georgetown is in the middle of the country's top oil-producing state, and its mayor is an accountant who considers himself a staunch Republican and a fiscal conservative.

It all came down to dollars and cents, not politics.

Renewables were a better long-term bet

Long-term contracts that help the city avoid potential upheavals in the fossil fuel market proved too attractive to pass up. Plus, the particular mix of solar and wind energy sources Georgetown picked should make for a stable and predictable energy supply.

A statement posted at the city's website says that wind production from the Spinning Spur 3 project near Amarillo will tend to be highest in the off-peak, evening, or early-morning hours. The west Texas solar farm will provide a daily afternoon supply peak that matches demand, especially during the hot summer months, the city says.

The city-owned utility has been in business since 1911. It closed its own power plant at the end of the Second World War and entered a long-term power contract. When that ended in 2012, Georgetown Utility Systems looked for the best energy deal it could find.

The city's contract to buy power from the solar farm runs through 2041; the wind energy deal extends to 2035. During that time, the city can look forward to stable power rates that have already fallen from 11.4 cents per kilowatt hour in 2008 to 8.5 cents this year, according to The Guardian.

When the city negotiated its new energy contracts, the cost of solar and wind was about the same as natural gas. But prices on the natural gas contracts would have been good for only 7 years while renewable contracts would offer stable rates for 20 years or more.

And while the Trump administration talks of putting coal back on top and questions basic science on climate change, Georgetown's mayor is busy studying the bottom line.

“The revolution is here,” Mayor Dale Ross said. “And I’m a good little Republican, a right-wing fiscal conservative, but when it comes to making decisions based on facts, that’s what we do.”

Whatever his personal politics, Ross has become a hit on the environmental circuit. According to The Guardian article, he'll be appearing in a film about clean energy for HBO as well as the followup to former Vice President Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. He also was a speaker at the National Clean Energy Summit, and was scheduled to be on a sustainable energy panel in Nova Scotia next month.

“You should see the fan mail that I get, especially with the movies,” Ross said.


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Image Credits:

  1. Matt Turner via Flickr

1.
Oct 25, 2017 9:39 AM ET

Is it all that unlikely?
by Norman Bunn

The mayor and the city council made an economic decision, not an ideological or political one. This is just what I would expect for good stewards of the city's (and it's tax payers') resources.

When green resources are cost competitive with fossil fuels, good stewards will more than likely do the same thing.


2.
Oct 25, 2017 11:02 AM ET

Response to Norman Bunn
by Martin Holladay

Norman,
I agree. The main reason that solar power and wind power are unstoppable, and that coal power and nuclear power are on the way out, is economics.


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