Deep in the heart of red Texas, a town goes green to save green.
image via (cc) via flickr user dukeenergy
Georgetown, Texas, probably isn’t the first place people think of when they think of clean, green energy. As the seat of Williamson County—one of Texas’ solidly, if not emphatically, conservative zones—the 30-odd miles that separate Georgetown from the Lone Star State’s liberal oasis of Austin might as well be 30,000. And yet, in seeming defiance of its red political roots and of Texas’ traditional embrace of oil and gas energy, Georgetown has announced plans to entirely transition to green energy by 2017.
Per a statement posted on the City of Georgetown website:
A 150-megawatt solar power agreement recently finalized, in addition to a 144 megawatt wind power agreement in 2014, will make the City of Georgetown one of the largest municipally-owned utilities in the U.S. to supply its customers with 100-percent solar and wind energy
Georgetown’s astonishing turn to fully renewable energy doesn’t so much come from a deep-seeded sense of environmental responsibility as it does from an economic reality: For Georgetown, going green is simply cheaper than remaining with fossil fuel. Writes Georgetown’s interim city manager, Jim Briggs, in a release announcing the finalized agreement between the town and solar power providers SunEdison: “Georgetown Utility Services isn't required to buy solar or other renewables—we did so because it will save on electricity costs and decrease our water usage”
Over at Slate, Daniel Gross points out that traditional methods for generating electricity require massive amounts of water—a commodity in high demand during the massive drought drying out the American southwest. He writes:
[C]reating electricity from wind turbines and photovoltaic panels requires virtually no water. This 2011 paper by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (see Tables 1 and 2) breaks down the median amount of water used to create a megawatt-hour of electricity through various power generation methods. For photovoltaic solar, the total is 26 gallons. For wind, it is zero. By contrast, generating a megawatt-hour of electricity using coal and natural gas requires several hundred gallons of water.
Gross cautions that while this sort of dramatic switch to renewable energy may work for sun-drenched, wind-rich Texas, not every community has access to the geologic features which make wind and solar power feasible on this scale. Still, as green energy becomes both more cost-effective and power-efficient, we may soon find other cities eager to follow Georgetown’s environmental, and economic, example.