A Professor’s Perspective: Renewables in Georgetown
April 06, 2015
April 06, 2015
In March of this year, city officials finalized an agreement that would make Georgetown the first city in Texas to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy. The announcement attracted favorable coverage from dozens of local, national and international media outlets. The environmental community immediately praised Georgetown’s decision to “ditch fossil fuels” even as local officials clarified that the move had little to do with climate concerns. Instead, Mayor Dale Ross and Interim City Manager Jim Briggs agreed that this decision was primarily based upon financial considerations—amidst an increasingly volatile fuel market and concerns over the reliability of the Texas electrical grid, Georgetown has signed an agreement to lock in predictable, competitive electric rates until 2041.
The switch from traditional energy sources to a mix of wind and solar also brings the added benefit of water conservation. Thermoelectric power plants are heavy water users, and according to the Texas Water Development Board, Texas power plants consume more than 157 billion gallons of water each year (that’s enough for a city of 3 million people using more than 140 gallons of water per person a day). In addition, traditional oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing creates a significant draw on the state’s water resources. In the past seven years more than 8,000 new oil and gas wells have been drilled in Texas with permits granted for 5,000 more. With a single well using anywhere between 3.5 and 6 million gallons of water, there is serious concern that increased water use for drilling and production could strain resources in the drought-stricken counties of the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale. Mainstream wind and solar technologies use little or no water, an important consideration in a water-stressed state that is projected to nearly double its population by 2050.
There is another benefit of Georgetown’s switch to renewables that has not gone unnoticed: a public relations boost. When Southwestern University chose to switch to 100 percent wind energy in 2010, the University received laudatory attention from the higher ed community as well as sustainability proponents. Our commitment to clean energy appeals to prospective students (many of whom consider environmental reputation when choosing a college) and gives Southwestern a boost to its national sustainability rankings (which are used by publications such as Sierra Magazine, as well as those published by the Princeton Review, to showcase the “greenest” institutions in the country). Now Georgetown is experiencing a similar PR windfall. In addition to widespread media attention, the switch to renewables appeals to industries seeking to “green” their image. As Mayor Ross noted in a recent Time magazine article, “Many companies, especially those in the high-tech sector, are looking to increase green sources of power … Our 100 percent renewable energy can help those companies to achieve sustainability goals at a competitive price without the burden of managing power supply contracts.”
For multiple reasons, Georgetown’s decision to switch to 100 percent renewable energy is a wise strategy that will benefit the community as a whole. An increasing number of individuals, families and companies are seeking out sustainable communities in Texas where they can live, learn and do business. It is inspiring to see the city of Georgetown and Southwestern University taking the lead.
Joshua Long is an interdisciplinary human geographer with research interests in sustainability, urban studies, place-based studies, environmental politics, and sustainable food and agriculture. The majority of his research and teaching is focused on the city of Austin and surrounding areas. Long lives in Georgetown, Texas.