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Texas city to go 100% solar, wind – because it’s cheaper, more reliable

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A city in Texas – home to the “Gusher Age” of American oil – is aiming to become 100 per cent renewable within two years, after finalising a deal with SunEdison to supply it with solar power for 25 years.

Georgetown – population 54,000 – will take the output from the 150MW solar plant and another 144MW from a new wind farm to source its needs from renewables. The local utility saying it has turned to wind and solar because it is cheaper and more reliable, and requires a lot less water.

The deal with SunEdison will provide electricity at a lower overall cost than the City of Georgetown’s previous wholesale power contracts – and will supply more than 9,500 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy to Georgetown rate payers through 2041, enough to power more than 24,000 homes a year for 25 years.

stock-footage-a-group-of-wind-turbines-seen-across-a-field-in-the-texas-panhandle-west-of-amarillo

A group of wind turbines seen across a field in the Texas panhandle west of Amarillo

And it follows the utility’s signing of a wind power agreement in 2014 – a 20-year PPA with EDF for 144MW from the 194MW Spinning Spur 3 wind project, which is currently under construction 50 miles west of Amarillo, and will begin delivery of power in 2016.

So in basic terms, what we have here is a major city-owned utility in America’s Number One Oil State that has chosen to supply its customers with renewable energy, because it’s cheaper and more reliable. At least, that’s pretty much how Georetown’s general manager of utilities, Jim Briggs, put it.

“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. This power purchase agreement makes Georgetown Utility Systems one of the largest municipal utilities in the nation to be 100 per cent renewable powered. It also provides a hedge against future fuel and regulatory risks.”

And as the Georgetown News reported on Wednesday, the combination of solar and wind power will allow the City to provide energy from complementary renewable sources, so as to meet demand patterns.

“The solar power produced in West Texas will provide a daily afternoon supply peak that matches the daily energy demand peak in Georgetown, especially during the hot summer months,” it said.

“Wind power production in West Texas tends to be highest in the off-peak, evening or early-morning hours. This means that wind power can most often fill power demand when the sun isn’t shining.”

For SunEdison, the hope is that the Georgetown example will act as a source of inspiration for other US cities that hope to become 100 per cent renewables.

The PPA is one of the largest solar agreements in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) jurisdiction, and represents the largest utility scale solar agreement that the global renewable energy giant has signed in Texas to date.

On completion of the solar plants, SunEdison expects to offer the project for investment to TerraForm Power, a Nasdaq-listed global owner and operator of clean energy power plants. The project is also expected to create close to 800 jobs in Texas during construction.

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  • Timbo

    The other thing that Texas has is… space.

    • Chris Turnbull

      Australia is similar in size to the US, but with less than 10% of their population. Plenty of room for solar farms such as the 2GW farm proposed near Toowoomba.

    • Social responsibility is dead.

      And Australia doesn’t?

  • Ronald Brakels

    A little solar trivia, Houston is almost as cloudy as Melbourne, which is probably not what most of us foreign types would expect. But Melbourne is still plenty sunny enough for solar and I’m sure it is even sunnier around Georgetown.

    • Social responsibility is dead.

      I have seen heaps of solar in Holland and Germany – both a lot cloudier than Melbourne, and much shorter days in winter.

  • cowcharge

    LOL. Nice fantasy, until the lights keep going off and on all night.

    • Kyle Sager

      LOL. Georgetown, TX is nearly 1,200 miles closer to the equator than Germany with sun that’s twice as good. Germany just directly displaced over 45 terawatt-hours annual of nuclear in under 4 years with nothing but sun and wind and measurable grid reliability improved…They just shut down the nuclear. And Germany’s grid was already 30% to 50% more reliable than most places in the United States before the switch. Distributed clean generation is more reliable than centralized production, puts less demand on grids, and that’s a fact. LOL. Nice try though.

      • cowcharge

        That’s fine, except in Germany they’re not foolish enough to try it with no conventional generation behind it. Which, as anyone who knows anything about grid-scale wind and solar knows, doesn’t work. And which Georgetown will discover soon enough, as soon as they talk to someone besides the salesmen that sold them the idea in the first place. “Monorail!” Or as soon as night falls.

        • zn

          2009 called. They want their arguments back.

          • cowcharge

            1849 called. They want their windmills back.

          • zn

            That’s not possible. The telephone was only invented in 1876. What you should have said is “Telegram: ATT 2015 SENDER 1849 REQUEST FOR REPOSSESION OF WINDMILLS STOP AT FIRST CONVENIENCE STOP REGARDS 1849 END”
            Or words to that effect.

    • david_fta

      Storage, we are assured, is on the way.

      • cowcharge

        “Assured”, huh? Good luck with that.

      • Social responsibility is dead.

        Storage is here.

      • cowcharge

        And I assure you that you can keep your insurance plan.

      • cowcharge

        It’s only been forty years of subsidies, nah, we don’t need to talk about storage “at this stage of renewables”. We need to give this “emerging” technology a chance, right? Just a few more decades and a few more billions from the ratepayers and we’ll nail it for sure! (sarcasm off).
        Since the free-debate-loving folks here at the reneweconomy echo chamber block people like me who don’t buy the sales pitch and aren’t afraid to say so, I can’t reply any more, I can only edit previous comments (for the moment, anyway. I’m sure deletion is next in their bag of tricks). So David_fta, I was talking about subsidies for windmills, but no, the storage folks who will rake in millions shouldn’t get my taxes to research and build them either, just in order to get rich on making me pay more for electricity instead of getting my “investment” back. Chris Villar, I’m against ANY subsidies for ANY commercial enterprise, so that’s cool, let’s end them all right now. Including those damned ethanol plants that are ruining everyone’s engines. Make the farmers grow FOOD instead of ersatz gasoline, and without Monsanto’s bee-killing, food-chain-diversity-eradicating “help”. And while we’re at it, instead of subsidizing more industrial wind “farms” (LOL) in places where there isn’t and never has been enough wind to drive them properly in the first place, why don’t we tell these guys to put their windmills up on top of all the old derelict industrial windmill compounds that are already scattered around the country. You know, the ones that were abandoned when the last round of subsidies dried up. And at THEIR OWN expense.
        And do I really have to point out that if Georgetown has petroleum backup then they’re not running on 100% renewables? Windmills nation-wide only generate a quarter of their rated output, but I bet the rated output is what the town is being charged for in their PPA, and I already know the rated output is what they use on TV when they quote how many homes these things will power. But they never do power all those homes. Never. Don’t take my word for it, look up “wind turbine capacity factor” yourself, it’s documented fact that they only put out about a quarter of what they promise. It’s also fact that when everything in their construction, installation, and decommissioning when they die in twenty years (you hope they last that long) is accounted for, they don’t really cut CO2 emissions. It’s also fact that our state’s largest hydro supplier reports that nearby industrial wind compounds are their biggest single customer. Oh, you mean you didn’t know that during those 45 minutes out of every hour when windmills aren’t generating that they need power from the grid for heat, and brakes, and those really attractive flashing red lights that reflect off all the wilderness lakes at night?
        And the conventional generation, whatever it may be, has to be up and running on standby 24/7 for when the wind drops below useful generating speed for 45 minutes out of the hour the way it does (nah, we don’t need to talk about storage). Running generator plants on standby is a horribly inefficient way to burn whatever fuel you’re using.
        By the way, up here we only use oil generation from one plant, as a last resort on the hottest days of the summer when Boston’s AC usage is sucking the grid dry (our generation portfolio is one of the cleanest in the country, mostly gas and hydro, and before the giant industrial lawn ornaments were put up, we already generated twice what we used at peak demand, and already sent excess power South every day). Boston and friends is also where all the power that dribbles out of the windmills they’ve desecrated our mountains with will go, to fill their renewable mandate. Neither the jobs nor the money will stay here (or in Georgetown) either. So go ahead, do your part to save the world with windmills. But know that you’ll pay through the nose to do it, and that they won’t, and can’t, ever, live up to your expectations. We gave up windmills for steam engines 150 years ago for a reason that hasn’t changed one whit since then (Betz’ Law makes sure of that), and it’s why you can type on that computer today. Anyway I’m tired of editing and tired of arguing with people who refuse to accept facts, I’m done.

        • david_fta

          “It’s only been forty years of subsidies, we need to give this “emerging” technology a chance, right” I assume you’re talking about fusion, because I am not aware of any large government programme for electrochemical energy storage – other than NASA’s work for space exploration.

        • Chris Villar

          Keep the subsidies going as long as there are oil subsidies. If we paid at the pump for the cost of our middle east military presence, it would increase the cost of gas $0.75/gallon.

    • Barri Mundee

      Try some reasoned argument rather than trolling!!!

      • cowcharge

        Try getting information on science from someone other than huffpo once in a while. There is no way to store either solar or wind energy on a grid scale. Period. So tell me, what will they do every time the wind drops or it’s cloudy out?

        • Barri Mundee

          I get my info from peer-reviewed science and reputable technology sites. Do you get your from Fox news?

          • cowcharge

            Of course not. Who in their right mind watches TV news? On the contrary, I’ve been a residential solar installer as well as having built a solar-powered camper. My knowledge comes from EXPERIENCE, not websites with an agenda. You ought to try it some time. I see you’re not going to try to answer my unanswerable question. I also see that reneweconomy blocks people who show them they’re wrong. Since I’m now blocked by those lovers-of-honest-debate moderators here, i’ll answer your question here. Who needs grid-scale storage? Georgetown, Texas.

          • Barri Mundee

            “I see you’re not going to try to answer my unanswerable question”. If it was truly unanswerable I would not bother.

            Who needs grid scale storage at this stage of renewables? Both solar and wind are increasing in their contribution but in many areas contribute only a small part of total generation- at this stage. There will be a point where the fossil fuels you so obviously support can be phased out and by that time we will have widely distributed renewables and grid scale storage.

        • Chris Villar

          If it’s cloudy out, our thermostats will turn the AC off, for one thing. Kidding. What we’ll do is get backup from petroleum. It’s not like Georgetown has created its own grid. It’s still tied into the statewide grid and using the same power as everyone else. What the town has done is sourced enough renewable generation to power the town over the course of a year or month or whatever. But moment to moment, there is no need nor even a means to guarantee that each electron comes from renewables.

          Texas, as a whole, and the Texas ERCOT grid is only run on like 2% renewables. There is a LOT of room to scale that up before we have to start worrying about what we’re going to do on a cloudy, still day.

          • Vm

            \Texas, as a whole, and the Texas ERCOT grid is only run on like 2%
            renewables. There is a LOT of room to scale that up before we have to
            start worrying about what we’re going to do on a cloudy, still day.\

            true and when that day comes, you have a choice to make if texas really wants to get rid of fossil fuels. So keep adding solar and wind until those problems arise and either:

            1. stop adding solar and wind. wait several decades until battery storage scalable and cheap enough is developed, all the while still using fossil fuel. Then again replace fossil fuels with solar/wind until gone. With Option #1 it looks like climate change will get us before batteries are perfected

            or

            2. Abandon the plan to have texas ercot 100% renewable and make a more realistic plan that uses solar, wind and nuclear, and any hydro/geothermal/biomass you got. Option #2 looks like it will get rid of fossil fuels faster

          • Chris Villar

            At the rate Texas is adding renewables, we’ll have the percentage of renewables that Idaho has today in 2 decades. That’s a long time before we have to worry about brownouts. That’s a long time to balance the load of renewable sources and for grid level storage costs to come down. You’re not the first one to perform this thought experiment.

            PS Oncor electric has a proposal in front of state regulators today to install 15 gigawatt-hours of battery storage by 2018 in west Texas. That’s one significant project that ready to break ground today, about 2 decades before it’s needed. Yeah, we need about 75 of those projects to cover the Texas electric consumption for a 24 hour period. But we have decades to get there. Let’s say 3-4 of these projects a year, battery costs coming down the entire time. That’s very achievable. Plus batteries are not the only way to skin this cat. Texas has hundreds of gigawatt-hours of grid level storage today in the form of existing hydro-electric reservoirs. Storing energy in the form of potential energy of water simply requires installation of high capacity pumps.

          • Vm

            \ that Idaho has today\

            as of 2010 idaho’s electricity mix was 4% wood and 3.7% wind

            http://www.energy.idaho.gov/energyalliance/d/idaho_energy_primer_2014.pdf

            you must be making the common mistake of lumping together intermittent renewables like wind and solar with non-intermittent renewables like hydro and geothermal

        • Bennett Willis

          Hey cow, no one proposes that the grid will go away. Someone pointed this out to you while ago. Unless you refute an argument, you should eat your crow in silence.

  • Vm

    http://ccentralassets.s3.amazonaws.com/images/remote/http_assets.climatecentral.org/images/uploads/news/06_25_2014_Bobby_Magill_Texas_Wind_2.png

    is it guaranteed that those low wind speed troughs only happen during sunny times? Otherwise you need backup from something other than solar. The backup is usually fossil fuel but a lot of it is low carbon nuclear

    • Bennett Willis

      Generally nuclear is the provider with the lowest production cost. As a result, they usually run nuclear plants full out, all the time. It is inappropriate to regard nuclear as backup power for anything since it always runs wide open.

      • Vm

        true. Nuclear power plants have been designed for and used as load following but its less economical to do so. Maybe I was too restricting in using the term “backup” and we should change the term to something more all encompassing

        The point is that from actual experience it looks like solar and wind being intermittent will always require pairing up with a “partner”, some non intermittent source of electricity, either as backup or as load following or with solar/wind forming peaking power with non intermittent forming baseload. So solar and wind cannot do it alone, it needs a “partner” of some sort.

        I would rather have the “partnership” with the least carbon emissions. I would prefer small amounts of solar/wind with larger amounts of hydro/nuclear (hydro is of course not available in all locations) in baseload or load following over larger amounts of solar/wind with fossil fuel as backup or load following

        • Bennett Willis

          If you look at the “capacity” of nuclear as a part of the “grid”, the actual amount of nuclear production is above the share amount by a noticeable fraction. You could make a good argument that you run the low carbon (nuclear and natural gas) generators full out and then use something else (say coal) to balance solar/wind. That way you run your low carbon plants at max capacity and only run the coal generators as needed to balance the load.
          I agree it would be nice from a carbon point of view to not have any coal plants but from an economical point of view, this won’t be reasonable for quite a while.
          I see the unit trains of coal when I go north/west from here (south of Houston) and I always think that for each pound of coal we will make about (44/12=3.6) pounds of carbon dioxide.

          • Bennett Willis

            I have seen the numbers on the “on line %” for generators. They are not all that good for coal and the % of name place capacity for wind and solar are quite low.

          • Vm

            okay. that compromise looks like the most feasable plan, even if its not zero carbon its the least possible emissions without busting the budget. A mix of solar, wind and nuclear balanced to minimize the “valleys” in the graph then use fossil fuels to fill in the valleys

  • Kyle Sager

    I hope there was plenty of incentive to use rooftop wherever possible in this effort. The more rooftop we use the less land is required.

  • roddy6667

    How much of this is being supported by taxpayers from other towns and states? Is Georgetown going to be the energy equivalent of a Welfare Queen?

    • Rhonda Painter

      What part of cheaper and more reliable did you not understand?

      • roddy6667

        When the dollars being measured come from incentives, tax rebates, and other social engineering schemes, you are just putting somebody else’s tax dollars in your pocket, just like a Welfare Queen.
        Alternative energy projects seldom are justifiable without being a parasite on others.

        • Rhonda Painter

          You’re making some pretty big assumptions that are not supported by the story.

          • roddy6667

            Federal and state tax credits are not an assumption. They are facts in the real world. Solar and wind projects are massively subsidized by (other) taxpayers. Of course it wasn’t mentioned in the article. It would ruin the whole feel-good tone.

          • James Brett Clibbery

            How about the huge tax benefits the oil industry receives from the state and federal governments? http://www.energyinvestmentsinc.net/index.php?&page=why&keyword=oilgas&gclid=CLSgxf-wvMQCFY2Tfgodkh4AFA

            http://www.glenntxoil.com/tax-benefits.html

            These look like some pretty good tax benefits for the oil and gas industry. Would you call this an assumption?

          • cowcharge

            Is anyone here cheering oil subsidies? Even though oil is actually useful, unlike windmills.

          • mothergrace

            Wow. Is the electricity not the same?

          • cowcharge

            If they weren’t propped up they’d collapse under their own inefficiency and uselessness.

    • Chris Villar

      The idea that only renewables, and not petroleum, is supported by the taxpayer is ludicrous. Comparing renewables to petroleum is apples to apples when both are subsidized.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/veraduerga Vera Scroggins

    good news about Texas; they can be a leader for renewable energies and get off dirty fossil fuels…

  • cowcharge

    The only accomplishment in this project is the scammers getting the city to sign a 20-year purchase contract. LOL, suckers. Monorail!

  • Bennett Willis

    That Georgetown is a major city is news to me.

  • Jjusttheletter Rhoades

    Pfffft
    Give a hippie an inch and then they want your roof!
    We’ve got more land than roofs here, and lots of over cultivated farm land to boot.
    Shuuudddddaaaap