Pledging support for renewable energy can sound like an environmentalist agenda that only liberals support, but one conservative Texas town is disproving that stereotype. Georgetown, Texas plans to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2017. Georgetown wasn't the first city in America to reach 100 percent green energy — that prize goes to Burlington, Vermont — but the Texas town proves that it can benefit everyone, regardless of political ideology.
Georgetown, which is 30 miles north of Austin, will get all of its energy from wind farms and solar plants by January 2017, which will actually save the city money. With wind and solar energy, prices are fixed for the duration of 20 year (or longer) contracts, meaning electricity bills won't go up. "For us it just made sense," said Keith Hutchinson, Georgetown's public communications manager. "It’s hard to argue with long-term low price reliability, an elimination of the uncertainty with oil prices, and there are certainly benefits to using resources that aren’t going to go anywhere any time soon."
Of the small Texas town's nearly 50,000 people, 63 percent identify as Republican. Saving the environment wasn't the primary goal for switching to clean energy — it was the pragmatic choice. Not killing the Earth just comes as an added benefit, as renewable energy can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions when replacing fossil fuels.
Georgetown's wind and solar energy will come from West Texas, where wind farms have boomed and solar plants aren't far behind, traveling via transmission lines paid for my Texas taxpayers as a part of the $6.8 billion Competitive Renewable Energy Zone project. The EDF solar plant that will help power Georgetown is still under construction, but is expected to be up and running by January 2017.
Not every city can do what Georgetown did, however. The town was able to switch over to 100 percent renewable energy in part because it's powered by a municipally-owned electric utility, unlike many U.S. cities that get power from private companies who control their own power sources.
Burlington, Vermont, which also has a publicly-owned electric company, was the first U.S. city to reach 100 percent clean energy in 2014. Unlike Georgetown, Burlington is a fairly liberal city, considering 67 percent of its residents voted for Vermont's Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, and its decision was more heavily based on the environment. Although Burlington's initial move to use more clean energy 15 years ago was sparked by the possibility of saving money, the city's residents were also concerned about climate change, according to Jessie Raven, a Burlington Electric Department representative. Burlington uses energy sourced from multiple locations, but a large portion of the city's energy comes from hydroelectric, biomass, wind, and solar.
For both Burlington and Georgetown, sourcing all renewable energy was the smart economic choice. Raven tells Bustle:
We expect using renewables will likely save Burlington $20 million over the next two decades, and we have not raised our rates since 2009, while most utilities in New England continue to rely on fossil fuels and have seen their utilities go up by as much as 30 percent.
However, if the trend towards clean energy continues to spread, it might lose some of its financial appeal. Fred Beach, assistant director at the University of Texas' Energy Institute and Georgetown resident, explained that as more cities switch over to renewable energy sources, the resources will run out until more facilities are built. "If you’re one of the first ones to the door, so to speak, you can get good deals," Beach said.
But for now, the deals still exist. The small conservative Texas town's decision to source only clean energy proves that it can be a viable option for many cities, whether in the north or south, Republican or Democrat. "I think it’s going to show people that these products are competitive," Beach said. "You don’t need idealistic reasons to do it, just pragmatic reasons."
Images: City of Georgetown (1); Burlington Electric Department (2)