Georgetown, Texas, has become something of a green celebrity for reaching its 100% renewable energy goal within just three years, and now the city is taking clean power to the next level. Not content with buying power from wind and solar farms located hundreds of miles away, city planners are moving ahead with a plan to pepper the town with solar panels.
You read that right. Texas has been an epicenter of US oil and gas production for generations, and now 65,000 of its own citizens are happily demonstrating how to cut the fossil energy cord.
Renewable Energy: Money Talks
If fossil fuel fans have a worst nightmare, Georgetown would be it. The city is living proof that renewable energy can save money for ratepayers.
Last fall, The Guardian talked to Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross, who explained that Georgetown started with a wind power investment back in 2014, when it was negotiating for power supply. At the time, the cost difference between natural gas and renewable energy was negligible, but wind and solar had a secret weapon that natural gas couldn’t match: long-term rate guarantees of 20-25 years, compared to only 7 for natural gas.
Here’s a rundown on the plan from The Texas Tribune:
The city announced a 25-year deal with SunEdison, the world’s largest renewable energy company, to buy 150 megawatts of solar power beginning next year. The company said it would build a solar farm in West Texas to meet the demand.
Last year, Georgetown signed a contract for 144 megawatts of wind energy through 2039. That electricity comes from an EDF Renewables wind farm 50-miles west of Amarillo.
The bet has already paid off. In 2008 Georgetown’s electricity rate was 11.4 cents per kilowatt hour. Last year it was only 8.5 cents.
Yes, This City Will Pay You To Go Solar
With the 100% renewable energy plan well in hand, you’d think Georgetown would rest on its laurels. Nope. The city is looking at the potential for future growth.
That means attracting new businesses, and in consideration of Georgetown’s cultural, tourism, and arts-oriented business community, that 100% renewable energy brand gives Georgetown an edge over the competition.
City officials estimate that news about its clean power buys reached about two billion people so far. Try getting that kind of free publicity with a new natural gas, coal, or nuclear energy contract.
The advantage isn’t just that businesses can burnish their green cred when they help fight climate change and conserve resources, though that is an important factor (city officials emphasize that renewable energy saves water, too).
There’s a direct bottom line advantage, too. Planners are beginning to recognize the operational value of locally sourced wind and solar. Add that to a competitive price for renewables, and you have an unbeatable combo.
If you’re thinking “virtual power plant,” run right out and buy yourself a cigar. Here’s local NBC affiliate KXAN with the scoop from Georgetown official Jack Daly:
One-hundred percent of Georgetown’s energy already comes from renewable sources, Daly said, but that includes a wind farm in the panhandle and a solar farm in west Texas. “We were thinking, ‘Boy, instead of being regulated by the state grid and relying on transmitting energy long distances, wouldn’t it be cool if we made all our power here in Georgetown?'”
With $100,000 in seed money from the Bloomberg Philanthropies 2018 Mayors Challenge, Georgetown will pay property owners to fork over part of their roof space for solar panels.
The city’s rooftop solar plan earned it one of 35 slots on the Mayors Challenge “champion cities” list for innovations in urban planning. Here’s the rundown from Bloomberg:
The City of Georgetown will lease rooftop space on residential and commercial properties to install solar panels that will generate enough energy to offset the need to purchase power from outside sources in this completely renewable energy-powered city.
Georgetown is eager to share the rooftop solar details. You can read its full press release online but for those of you on the go, the $100,000 is part of the “Test, Learn, and Adapt” phase of Challenge. Georgetown will be provided with expert guidance to refine the idea, and if all goes well it will be one of four cities to receive a $1 million followup award.
That’s small potatoes compared to the $5 million grand prize for one lucky city, but in any case the city is prepared to forge ahead even if $100,000 is the only funding they get from the Challenge.
Power By The People, For The People
If you’re wondering why Georgetown is able to get all this done so quickly, one important element in the mix is that Georgetown has its own municipal utility authority, which among other things means that it can tend to its own business instead of calculating pluses and minuses around a sprawling network of power plants covering a vast array of political jurisdictions.
Also, Georgetown planners could see the feasibility of 100% clean power plan for their city when they took a look at Burlington, Vermont. Burlington, which also happens to have its own municipal electric utility, was the first US city to go 100% renewable.
Unfortunately, even when cities are eager to act on renewable energy, state-level legislators can still toss a monkey wrench into the clean power works.
The current occupant of the White House also hasn’t been much help, though as CleanTechnica has noted many (many) times, Energy Secretary Rick Perry seems to have developed his own weird formula for keeping his boss happy while aggressively promoting the Energy Department’s wind and solar initiatives, so there’s that.
Photo: via City of Georgetown, Texas.