Georgetown’s 100 Percent Renewable Initiative Makes It a Model City for Solar
December 14, 2018
Texas may not be known for its progressive stance on renewable energy — the state was practically built on oil, after all. However, that reputation is quickly being built by one small town north of Austin. The Georgetown Green Renewable Initiative is turning heads among other states.
In 2014 Georgetown, Texas, began making plans to obtain 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Mainly solar and wind. Using bids contracted with NRG Energy Inc. and EDF Renewable Energy, all of the city’s energy now comes from large solar and wind farms located in West Texas and Amarillo.
In July 2018, when Georgetown began receiving energy from Buckthorn Solar Plant in Fort Stockton, it became one of the largest cities in the country to go 100 percent renewable. Here’s how it all works — and how other cities can follow Georgetown’s example.
Municipal Government Saves Public Funds with Solar Power
What makes Georgetown, Texas, different from towns like Burlington, Vermont, the crunchy granola home of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, is that its decision to switch to 100 percent renewables isn’t necessarily motivated by concern for the environment.
Instead, Georgetown’s mayor Dale Ross is attracted to the economic possibilities. While local natural gas companies offered seven-year contracts, Ross says, solar energy and wind providers were able to guarantee contracts for 20 to 25 years. Meanwhile, the push to renewables has reduced prices from 11.4 cents per kilowatt hour in 2008 to 8.5 cents in 2017.
More City Governments Should Look To Renewable Energy
In the mayor’s mind, embracing solar and wind positions Texas to lead the market in energy, regardless of where that energy comes from. The state’s potential for solar and wind makes it a likely future powerhouse — literally — for a coming era of renewable energy. Experts predict that around half of all power will come from renewables by 2050. Setting the stage for these market shifts just makes sense.
Photo: City of Georgetown
Factors Affecting Municipal Government Investment in Solar
This is a tough question, mainly because every town has different demographics, renewable potential, and utility arrangements. For instance, Kodiak Island, Alaska, another 100 percent renewable town, receives its energy from wind and hydropower. Burlington, Vermont, on the other hand, uses a variety of different resources, including biomass, wind, solar, hydro, and landfill gas. Getting that mix just right is one key to renewable success.
Power Struggle between Municipal Governments and Utility Companies
Another issue lies with utilities. Towns that have their own municipal utility companies, rather than relying on larger state commercial providers, have more control over where their energy comes from. Cities that don’t own their electrical grid may have more complicated negotiations in front of them if they hope to get to 100 percent renewable.
Energy Issues are Socio-economic Issues for Municipal Governments
It also helps to frame energy as a socio-economic issue. This is no misrepresentation. Many cities that have achieved 100 percent renewable energy and other efficiency goals have seen overall drops in overall energy spending.
New municipal installations in Georgetown have cut energy costs in half. Greensburg, Kansas, another 100 percent renewable city, has reduced energy spending by $200,000 by retrofitting its largest buildings with LEED features. But it’s not just energy costs. Many municipal areas that have pledged to go 100 percent renewable were motivated to do so because they hoped it would create jobs, stimulate the local economy, and secure their area’s energy future.
Photo: City of Georgetown
Progress at the Getting Solar Panel Buy-In Local Level
The Georgetown Green Renewable Initiative signs a promise to move to 100 percent renewable energy. This is a laudable step. As of 2018, over 100 cities have made such a commitment through the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100” initiative.
However, going 100 percent renewable presents logistical and political challenges. Not every area is ready for such a lofty goal. According to one study out of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, small energy projects often provide the necessary momentum for a larger 100 percent commitment. In particular, the institute highlights the following actions:
- Energy-efficient improvements, such as LEED-certified public buildings or solar installations on municipal sites
- Goal setting and accountability. Cities should both create a climate action plan and some sort of mechanism for measuring success and reporting progress
- Obtaining funding for energy-related projects, such as power purchase agreements, PACE funding, and community solar
- Negotiating with utilities to revise energy policies and processes
Constituents, both commercial and individual, must also do their part, expressing their interest in alternative energy sources. This can be done by appealing to local governments directly, or by simply taking the lead and investing in solar on their own property. The Georgetown green renewable initiative is setting precedents.
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