Local ownership and freedom from pre-existing energy contracts were the two key factors that set the town of Georgetown, Texas, population 55,000, on a course to procuring 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2017, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s John Farrell reports.
“So many other cities with abundant renewable resources (eg. Tucson, Arizona) are stuck with a majority-coal-fired electricity supply,” he writes. But “if cities had these keys, many could obtain 100% renewable energy at a surprisingly low cost.”
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Local ownership is only a reality for about one in seven Americans, who buy electricity from one of about 2,000 municipal utilities. “These locally controlled utilities allow a community to chart its own electric future,” Farrell explains. “It’s the key behind Palo Alto’s surge toward carbon-neutral electricity, toward Austin’s 35% renewable by 2020 goal, and Sacramento’s ability to pursue a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by 2050.”
But “there are many other municipal utilities with only a pittance of renewable energy on their grid system,” he adds. By contrast, Georgetown shut down its last power plant in 1945, and its major supply contract expired in 2012. When it weighed the options, renewables turned out to be the best business decision.
“Georgetown didn’t pursue renewable energy for environmental reasons, but simply because it was the best investment for their customers,” Farrell writes. “The 150 megawatts of solar PV and 145 megawatts of wind power will supply as much as double the town’s annual electricity use, ensuring sufficient supply year round even with fluctuations in sunshine and wind, and allow the town to sell the excess into Texas electricity markets. As attractive as the price—which was lower than the town’s current wholesale electricity costs—the solar and wind contracts have zero volatility because they have zero fuel cost, insulating Georgetown electric customers from rising fossil fuel prices.”