Georgetown, Texas is a town of about 70,000 residents north of Austin. In 2012, the city committed to moving its energy grid to 100% renewables, a combination of wind and solar. Ever since then it has been touted as a model for the future and was even featured in the sequel to Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth.
But it turns out Georgetown residents aren’t thrilled with how things are working out in their town. When Georgetown committed to renewables it bought enough that it could cover peak summer usage plus a little extra for future population growth. It locked in 2012 prices by committing to long term contracts of up to 25 years. Of course, it wouldn’t need all of that power most of the year so the plan was to sell the excess to others on the Texas power grid who, it was thought, would be paying much higher prices for electricity produced from fossil fuels.
Unfortunately for Georgetown, the fracking boom happened and the United States produced so much cheap natural gas that we’ve become a net exporter of fossil fuels. While gas brought energy prices down over the past couple years everywhere else, Georgetown was locked into pricey contracts for more energy than it needed. And because everyone else was paying less, no one wanted to buy Georgetown’s excess green energy, which means the town is stuck paying for it to the tune of several million dollars.
This month, Georgetown residents learned they’ll be paying higher electricity bills this year thanks to this dynamic and, understandably, some of them are not happy about it. From KVUE:
“This was sold as an economic advantage because it was going to lock prices in for years to come,” Randy Barnaby, a Georgetown property owner, said.
But Barnaby and Georgetown resident Jonathan Dade are upset that’s not what’s happening, since the city just announced that customers will see an increase in their power cost adjustment.
According to city officials, it will be about $13 each month for the average customer.
“Every single dollar added to a bill on top of the rising property tax bill is eating into what we have to live off of,” Barnaby said.
“I’m going to see a couple hundred dollars out of my pocket every year now because of this,” Dade said.
“It was a mistake. It was a rash decision. It wasn’t thought through,” Barnaby said.
Texas Public Radio reports that the switch to green energy may not have helped consumers but it definitely helped Georgetown’s PR effort:
“Why did Georgetown buy so much extra electricity?” said Bill Peacock, director of research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. “It was because they wanted to be able to go and tell the world they were 100 percent renewable, and they needed enough to cover their cost at peak during the summer.”
The city was featured in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Sequel,” and Mayor Dale Ross, who identifies as Republican, often speaks at climate change conferences. A city-sponsored study estimated they earned $19 million in publicity from the attention.
As recently as last summer, Mayor Ross was bragging about the low energy prices in Georgetown even as it must have been clear the city was going to lose money because of going all in on green energy. If it hadn’t been for fracking Ross would probably still be bragging but just like the energy market itself, the dynamic has changed. Here’s a video of Al Gore visiting Georgetown in 2016 (h/t Dailly Caller). Everything Gore says here is right in theory, except that he didn’t allow for the possibility of new technology (fracking) changing the ball game.