The energy is greener in Georgetown, Texas.
Karen Soeffker started serving “green ice cream” in her toy store — and sales went up.
Rita Healy said the hotel she manages advanced its corporate sustainability goals — and started hosting more guests at its local conferences.
Even the town’s top leader has gone green. Mayor Dale Ross went from not being a “gung ho environmentalist who thought about climate change,” to rubbing elbows with top environmental experts around the world.
All of these changes have occurred because Georgetown — a city 25 miles north of Austin with a population of about 61,000 — is now powered by 100 percent renewable energy, becoming one of the largest cities with municipally owned utilities in the nation to do so.
“It’s sort of neat to be a trailblazer,” Ross said. “It may not work for everyone. You use what works for you. In Washington, it’s hydropower. In Texas, it’s wind and solar power.”
Since 2015, the city has been powered by a 144-megawatt wind farm in Adrian, Texas, 500 miles from Georgetown. Beginning in July, a solar plant owned by NRG Yield, operated by NRG Renew and financed by Wells Fargo in Pecos County, Texas, about 300 miles from Georgetown, will provide 150 megawatts of energy, supplying about half of Georgetown’s power.
A ‘green’ decision, so to speak
Ross is quick to say that the decision to power the city with renewable energy was first and foremost a business decision.
In 2014, the city was in a dispute with its energy provider and didn’t agree with its mandates, so city officials began exploring different options, Ross said. City staff members realized they could sign a seven-year contract and continue with fossil fuels as a power source or agree to a 20- or 25-year contract for wind and solar power.
“If you’re paying $18 for solar and coal is $25, who are you going to buy from?” Ross said. “Are we going to have more fossil fuel or wind and sunshine in Texas? The wind factor is off the charts.
For most people, at the end of the day, it’s about how much they’re paying for electricity. We know exactly what we’re paying for 25 years.”
The longer-term contract would also mean that power bills wouldn’t fluctuate. “Usually you see spikes in the winter and summer,” said Jim Briggs, general manager of utilities and assistant city manager for Georgetown. “That doesn’t happen here.”