By Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director
It’s been a strange and twisted road, but indications are that the City of Denton will become the second city in Texas, after Georgetown, to set a near-term goal of producing enough energy from renewables to meet 100% of its electric needs from contracts with solar and wind developers.
On January 22, Denton’s Public Utility Board voted to endorse a plan to get enough electricity from additional solar and wind contracts to meet all of the city’s electrical needs by the end of 2020. The new plan now goes to Denton Mayor Chris Watts and his fellow councilmembers, most likely in early February.
Well, yes. It’s complicated. A couple of years ago, former Denton Municipal Electric General Manager Phil Williams announced the Denton Renewable Plan, which had three main goals:
Achieve a goal of 70% renewable energy by 2019
End Denton’s contract with the now mothballed Gibbons Creek coal plant
Build a 220 MW natural gas peaker plants
What followed was controversial.
Public meetings were held, and most of the North Texas community was supportive of more renewable energy but suspicious of the need for a new natural gas plant in an area already suffering from poor air quality. The Brattle Group consulting firm conducted a study that largely supported the Denton Renewable Plan goals. But others, including the Sierra Club and many council members, questioned the independence of the study and its failure to assess other local options to meet high demand, such as energy efficiency, local community solar, and energy storage. Despite these concerns, the Denton City Council adopted the Renewable Denton Plan on a 4 - 3 vote in early 2017, officially authorizing construction of the natural gas plant, which should be operational this summer.
But that wasn’t the end. Questions began to emerge about how the natural gas technology was chosen, and several Denton officials resigned or were placed on leave, largely over how the contract was negotiated and granted. Even General Manager Williams decided to retire from his position.
With several new council members and the Mayor still skeptical of the original plan, the Council authorized Austin-based Enterprise Risk Consulting (ERC) to conduct an additional third-party study in December 2017. ERC was asked to review the Denton Renewable Plan and look at an even more aggressive goal.
In its “Renewable Resource Plan for the City of Denton, Texas,” ERC recommended that Denton could accelerate and expand its renewable goal to reach 100% renewables by the end of 2020. Though it would still be the owner of a new natural gas plant, the recommendation stated that Denton could use the plant largely as a financial hedge when local energy prices spike, meaning that even as the city meets an overall annual goal of 100% renewable energy, it would (on occasion) use the natural gas plants to earn money on the market and perhaps meet local energy demand when needed. They estimated it would only be used between 10 and 15% of the year.
More specifically, ERC recommended that Denton add to existing solar and wind contracts by securing an additional 200 MW of solar and 100 MW of coastal wind over the next two years. New GM George Morrow told the Public Utility Board that DME has already put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) and is analyzing which bids are the most advantageous and would bring those contracts back to the Board and City Council later this fiscal year. He expected all of the contracts to be secured and in place in or before 2020.
Georgetown First, Denton Second
Assuming that Denton City Council endorses the new goal and that DME is able to bring cost-effective contracts back later in the year, Denton would be the second city in Texas to meet all of its energy needs through renewable energy contracts. Again, for the sake of transparency, that doesn’t mean that the actual energy from these projects flows directly to the homes and businesses in Denton. What it means is that the solar and wind contracts add enough renewable energy in Texas’ electric grid to equal the amount that Denton uses over the course of the year. Denton would be following the path of Georgetown, the first city in Texas, and one of the first in the nation, to commit to 100% renewable energy last year.
So What’s On The Horizon For North Texas?
The work isn’t yet finished. The City of Denton still has to endorse the plan and then sign renewable contracts.
There’s also still the issue of the Gibbons Creek coal plant, which is jointly owned by Denton, Bryan, Greensville, and Garland. The coal plant is presently mothballed and an attempt to sell it has led to no buyers. The Sierra Club has been urging Denton and the other cities to go ahead and permanently retire this old dirty technology.
Finally, as the ERC’s report makes clear, Denton should also invest in local clean energy options, community and rooftop solar, energy efficiency, and demand response, in addition to technologies that increase the value of renewable energy like energy storage.
The Sierra Club, our members and allies, will continue to talk to City Council, DME, and other decision-makers about permanently closing the coal plant, investing in local clean energy options, and signing long-term contracts with large scale solar and wind contracts.