I'm a Texan, not by birth, but by choice for the past few years. Here in Austin, it's easy to find plenty of people with like-minded views on renewable energy, composting, sustainable living and just a general passion for preserving the environment, which makes it easy to forget how firm a hold fossil fuels have in this state.
It's a huge driver for the economy in a state that produces large quantities of natural gas and has oil refineries dotting its coast, yet the state is also ripe for renewable energy production. As T. Boone Pickens once championed, there is great potential for wind energy, with many farms up and running, as well as solar. Renewable energy has made great gains in the state, but no cities or towns have pledged to go fully renewable until now.
Georgetown, deep in the heart of Texas, just north of Austin, has become the first city in the state to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy. Not surprisingly, it wasn't for social or environmental reasons, it was the most economical option.
The switch to renewables took three years of research and negotiations, with renewable energy coming down in price during that time making it a real competitor.
Last year, the city signed a contract for wind energy with wind developer EDF that is constructing a 194-MW wind farm near Amarillo. That electricity will make its way to Georgetown next year. When it came time to sign new energy contracts for the rest of the city's needs, the city compared prices between natural gas, which has seen lower prices in recent years, and solar power. With natural gas, the city was only offered short-term contracts and with the volatility of the market, that seemed risky, but with solar, the city was able to secure a 25-year contract at a rate lower than it's paying now.
“When Georgetown Utility Systems opted to seek new sources of power in 2012, we were charged with a mission to secure the most cost-effective energy that balanced risk and reward,” interim city manager Jim Briggs said in a prepared statement.
Solar was the clear choice. The city signed a contract with SunEdison for 150 megawatts of solar starting next year. The combination of both of those new energy sources coming online next year means Georgetown will be able to fully meet its 54,000 residents' needs with renewable energy by 2017.
The city notes that there may be times when demand exceeds the renewable energy coming in and they'll have to rely on fossil fuels, but the city is purchasing enough renewable energy to exceed its overall needs, which still puts them at net zero fossil fuels.
Georgetown is significant not just because it's located in a state that has so far favored fossil fuels, but also because it's only the 13th municipality in the entire country to commit to 100 percent renewable energy and it's the first in the South to do so.