Imagine an American city that runs on 100% renewable energy.
A town that’s completely given up on fossil fuels and replaced them with wind and solar What kind of town are you picturing?
A big city, like San Francisco?
A sunny, hip oasis in the desert?
Maybe a progressive village in Vermont?
What about a city smack-dab in the middle of a state known for oil and gas?
Probably not what you expected.
Welcome to Georgetown, TX.
This is the city’s mayor: Dale Ross.
Thank y’all for coming to Georgetown, the greatest city on planet Earth.
You know, I see why you say that.
I like it here.
You’ve got a pretty town.
Georgetown is one of the first cities in the US to get 100% of their energy from renewable sources.
But this is a bit of a surprise, considering this city of nearly 70,000 is in a politically conservative region of a politically conservative state that is practically synonymous with oil and gas.
Not exactly where you might expect to find a renewable energy success story.
Alright, I have a personal question.
Are you really secretly a Democrat?
I’m a proud Republican!
At the national level, we have a Republican president in President Trump, but we couldn’t differ more on environmental policy or energy policy.
Why are people surprised to find out that Georgetown is 100% renewable?
I just think the stereotype in the past is that renewable energy is this Democratic, progressive, or liberal concept.
Why would a bunch of Republicans in the heart of oil and gas country even consider this?
It was based on a business decision.
We let the facts dictate the best decision to the people we were elected to serve.
Like many cities, Georgetown doesn’t generate its own electricity.
It buys electricity from companies that do.
They’re able to shop on the open market and find the best price for the energy they need.
Turns out the best deal for Georgetown was wind and solar from west Texas.
I think people expect, or have this idea that renewables are more expensive.
But is that true?
Absolutely not, and I think that’s what you’re seeing in the market right now.
Wind energy is selling for about $18 per MW, versus coal, which is $25 a MW.
We’re at a tipping point right now where the pricing favors renewables.
Most of the cost of renewables comes when you construct the turbine or install the solar panels.
So, it's less risky for renewable energy companies to finance and build these projects if a city like Georgetown agrees to buy that energy for, say, 20 years.
But once they’re built, the cost of operating wind and solar is not only pretty low, it doesn’t change much.
And to people like Dale Ross, that’s important, because it means the price of that electricity is stable for a long time.
We signed a 25 year contract, so they’re contracted to give us that price for the next 20 and 25 years.
It’s like me going to the gas station on the corner, talking to the guy behind the desk, and we sign a contract that he’s going to charge me today’s gas prices for my car 20 years down the road.
That’s exactly right.
That sounds like a good business deal!
I’ll take that deal!
It is a good deal!
So Georgetown chose 100% renewable energy because it saves them money.
But what does it *really* mean for a city to get 100% renewable energy?
To answer that, we’re going to have to learn a little about the world’s largest and most complex machine: The energy grid.
Across the world, seven-plus billion people have access to electricity - meaning the whole world is connected to a massive tangle of wires.
In the US, electricity is distributed across three zones: One for the west, one for the east, and one for Texas.
Why Texas has its own power grid is another story, but that is just… so Texas.
Historically, these zones grew from smaller grids in major cities, which simply joined up wherever it made sense.
Point is, this system is all interconnected.
No matter how it’s made, all the electricity goes into the same big grid.
It’s like a big pool.
A few people are pouring water in, and other people are drinking out of it [straws].
If you pay someone to add clean water to the pool, your share of water is clean, even if the water you end up drinking isn’t totally clean.
Except, unlike clean or dirty water, there’s no such thing as clean electrons or dirty electrons.
You can't tell where they came from just by looking at them.
So renewable energy is an accounting thing as much as it is a "clean electrons" thing.
And that's why Georgetown can call itself 100% renewable, even though most of the actual electrons coming out of their wall sockets were probably generated by nearby natural gas or coal plants.
Georgetown pays for as much renewable energy as it consumes, so it's helping make that much more of the total energy on the grid renewable.
It didn't have to be about the environment, but it’s huge benefits.
Why can’t we win the economic argument, because if we do that, by default we’re the environmental argument.
And clean water, clean air is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, it’s an American issue.
And I think everyone can come to the table and agree, cleaner air is better than dirtier air, and cleaner water is better than dirtier water.
It’s not rocket science.
The most beautiful town square in not only Texas, but the United States of America!
Do you think every town could go 100% renewable?
Maybe not 100% but you can certainly increase the amount of renewable energy in your energy portfolio.
When you talk to other Republican mayors, what are their reactions to your story?
They think it’s remarkable, and they think it took tremendous political courage to do this.
And I just remind them if you do the right thing and you make decisions based on facts, it’s not that hard to do.
But even if cities and towns want to make the shift to similar renewable policies, there are still some roadblocks I think the biggest hindrance right now is if they’re in a current contract that requires fossil fuels, you have to let those contracts expire.
Or write a check to get out of them to transition to renewable energy.
In a way, some people are trapped using fossil fuels.
At least right now.
But I tell you what.
I just encourage all elected officials to do the right thing for their citizens, and don’t be afraid to innovate.
And don’t be afraid to be a bold visionary leader.
Thanks a lot for having us in your town.
Be sure to spend a lot of money on the most beautiful town square in the state of Texas!
I gotta go back to the hot sauce shop.