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Georgetown mayor Dale Ross is ‘a good little Republican’ – but ever since his city weaned itself off fossil fuels, he has become a hero to environmentalists

Georgetown mayor Dale Ross is ‘a good little Republican’ – but ever since his city weaned itself off fossil fuels, he has become a hero to environmentalists

by Tom Dart in Georgetown, Texas
Monday 16 October 2017 07.49 EDT
theguardian.com

When the caller said he worked for Harry Reid and the former Senate majority leader wanted a word, Dale Ross assumed it was a joke. “OK, which of my buddies are messing with me today?” he wondered.

He shouldn’t have been so surprised. Ross is the mayor of Georgetown, population 65,000, and he has become a minor celebrity in environmental circles as a result of a pioneering decision in 2015 to get all the city’s electricity from renewable sources.

Georgetown’s location in oil-and-gas-centric Texas and Ross’s politics add to the strangeness of the tale. The mayor is a staunch Republican at a time when a Republican president – and his Environmental Protection Agency administrator – reject the scientific consensus on climate change and are trying to revive the declining coal industry.

Ross has appeared in a National Geographic documentary, a forthcoming film about clean energy for HBO directed by James Redford (son of Robert) and in this year’s follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth, which saw the advocate and former vice-president Al Gore visit Georgetown.

The day after we met at city hall, just off Georgetown’s charming main square, Ross was set to fly to Utah to introduce a screening of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Then it was on to Las Vegas to reunite with Gore, a fellow speaker at Friday’s National Clean Energy Summit, an event co-hosted by Reid, a Democrat from Nevada. Next week, a conference in Oakland, California. Next month, a green energy panel in Nova Scotia.

Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, says the decision to source all the town’s energy from renewable resources was based in cold-eyed pragmatism. Photograph: Katie Hayes Luke for the Guardian

Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, says the decision to source all the town’s energy from renewable resources was based in cold-eyed pragmatism. Photograph: Katie Hayes Luke for the Guardian

“You should see the fan mail that I get, especially with the movies,” Ross grinned. The 58-year-old said the decision to follow the lead of Burlington, Vermont – the first US city to run solely on renewable energy – was not the product of liberal do-gooder vapours wafting up Interstate 35 from nearby Austin. It was based on cold-eyed pragmatism, the fruit of the kind of careful numerical analysis he performs in his day job as a certified public accountant.

“The revolution is here,” he said. “And I’m a good little Republican, a rightwing fiscal conservative, but when it comes to making decisions based on facts, that’s what we do.”

The facts, Ross said, are that when Georgetown negotiated power supply deals the cost was about the same between natural gas and wind and solar, but the natural gas option would provide only a seven-year guaranteed contract whereas 20-25 year proposals were on the table from renewable providers.

Georgetown officials decided to lock in a long-term rate to eliminate price volatility, mindful of the risk that future government actions might send fossil fuel costs soaring.

Prices in the city, Ross said, have declined from 11.4¢ per kilowatt hour in 2008 to 8.5¢ this year. Georgetown sources most of its power from a wind farm 500 miles away in Amarillo and will get solar energy from a farm in west Texas that is expected to be finished next June, meaning the city can attain its 100% renewable goal even when the wind isn’t blowing. This year, Ross said, the tally is about 90%, down from 100% in 2016.

“I think it’s a big step for Texas, for Georgetown,” said Christian Soeffker, who runs a toy shop on the square. “We just like the idea of being in a town that is in some ways special because we’ve got all that green energy.”

Large power lines built to service the oil fields now take energy from wind farms to economic centers like Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Photograph: Katie Hayes Luke for the Guardian

Large power lines built to service the oil fields now take energy from wind farms to economic centers like Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Photograph: Katie Hayes Luke for the Guardian

Georgetown makes headlines not only because so few US cities run entirely on renewables, but because it has a conservative mayor willing to make compromises and fraternise with high-profile Democrats in a hyper-partisan era where climate change is one of the most divisive subjects.

“How is anybody going to compete with wind and solar?” said Ross, who has ordered an electric-powered BMW scooter from California and plans to fit solar panels at his home and office.

All the same, he voted for coal’s biggest champion in last November’s presidential election – Trump was “like, my eighth or ninth choice” in the primary, he said – and went to his inauguration, which he said was “phenomenal”, even if it cost $700 for a basic hotel room. His support is not unquestioning, though.

“When Trump was campaigning he was talking about clean coal and we’re going to bring coal jobs back? That is a mirage, that is not going to happen,” he said. “Coal is one of the most expensive forms of fossil fuels to produce. And those jobs are never going to come back, ever. They’re done.”

As for any policies the federal government might enact to boost the coal industry, such as the decision announced on Tuesday to scrap the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan?

“Isn’t that sort of like putting a Band-Aid on somebody that has terminal cancer?” Ross said. “I’m not the smartest guy in the room but it’s not that complicated, OK? How’s fossil fuels going to compete in the next five years? They’re not going to be able to compete.”

‘We have so much that is ideal for solar’

Texas is the US leader in wind energy capacity, even as many of its politicians maintain absolute fealty to fossil fuels that are a key economic driver and still the supplier of most of the state’s electricity. It has lagged behind other states in solar capacity but is starting to realise its potential.

“We have so much area in Texas that’s ideal for solar,” said Joey Romano, a 35-year-old with a small solar farm 50 miles west of downtown Houston. “Solar and wind, unsubsidised, today already can compete with coal,” he said.

Local Sun has about 100 residential customers. Completed at the end of 2015, the farm is located in a rural county that gave Trump 79% of the vote. But Romano said local officials recognised the potential for jobs and revenue and were happy to help the project get off the ground. Beehives stand among the 15,000 panels.

Local Sun, near Houston, has around 100 customers. Photograph: David A Brown/Local Sun

Local Sun, near Houston, has around 100 customers. Photograph: David A Brown/Local Sun

“We call the programme ‘farm-to-market solar energy’,” Romano said, at his office in central Houston.

Local Sun is a boutique operation in partnership with MP2 Energy, a retail company owned by Shell, and it is designed to attract those willing to pay a small premium for an eco-conscious local product, much as food shoppers might spend a little more for organic groceries.

However modest, its very existence feels like a significant marker in a city that is known as America’s oil and gas capital but is in fact the nation’s biggest municipal user of green power.

On the other hand, environmental activists worry that solar’s growth will be stunted in Texas and across the country if, as appears likely, the Trump White House imposes prohibitive tariffs on imported solar panels.

“They may harm thousands of installation jobs in favour of a few hundred manufacturing jobs, so that could hurt,” said Jim Marston of the Environmental Defense Fund, who believes renewable energy will thrive even if federal incentives end and barriers are erected.

“You can’t stop the technology. It’s too good, the prices are too good, and people want it,” he said.

Ross agrees that market forces will prevail. On Friday, the day of the clean energy summit, Texas’s largest electricity producer announced it would close two more coal-fuelled power plants in the state.

Luminant cited challenging economic conditions including low wholesale and natural gas prices and the growth of renewables. A week earlier, the company said that in January it will retire a large coal-powered plant in east Texas.

“We were on the frontier of the fossil fuel business, oil and gas,” Ross said. “And now Texas again is on the frontier of the new energy that’s going to be the future.”

TREIA & Southwestern’s Environmental Studies Program to Host Film Screening of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power on Campus October 22

Southwestern’s Environmental Studies Program, in conjunction with The Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance (TREIA), will host a film screening of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power on campus October 22.

Southwestern’s Environmental Studies Program, in conjunction with The Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance (TREIA), will host a film screening of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power on campus October 22. This event is free and open to the public.

TREIA is a nonprofit organization working to promote and advance the renewable energy industry in Texas. Made up of project developers, corporations, financial institutions, end users, utilities, manufacturers, service providers, academia, and government leaders, TREIA works to scale renewable energy, grow the local economy, and create jobs. Its stakeholders are involved in solar, wind, biomass, biofuel, energy efficiency, geothermal, hydro, ocean, and energy storage. Al Gore is this year’s keynote speaker at TREIA’s annual conference, GRIDNEXT, which takes place in Georgetown October 23-24th.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

More than a decade after jumpstarting a global conversation on the climate crisis with the film An Inconvenient Truth, Climate Reality Founder and Chairman Al Gore returns to the big screen with An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

The sequel tells the story of one man’s fight to solve this crisis at a time when the threat has never been clearer – and the reasons for hope have never been greater. It follows Vice President Gore as he travels the world training citizens as Climate Reality Leaders and building an international coalition to confront the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.

This film arrives at a critical moment, as Vice President Gore, Climate Reality, and millions of Americans fight back against an administration that prioritizes the interests of fossil fuel corporations over the health of our planet.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power reminds us what can happen when regular citizens take a stand. The film showcases our Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings, where people from all walks of life come to work with Vice President Gore and other experts, learning key climate science and gaining the skills to lead their communities in the fight for climate solutions.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Film Screening Details

Date: Sunday, Oct. 22

Time: 6:30 p.m., doors open at 6 p.m.

Location: F.W. Olin Building, Room 105 on the Southwestern campus
1001 E. University Avenue, Georgetown, TX 78626

The event is open to the public. Refreshments will be provided in advance of the screening.

For more information about the on-campus film screening contact Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Joshua Long at jlong@southwestern.edu.  For additional information on GRIDNEXT visit the conference website.

Elon Musk says Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries and solar

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Fred Lambert - Oct. 5th 2017 3:54 pm ET @FredericLambert

After Puerto Rico was hit by two hurricanes back to back in just a few weeks, along with other islands in the Caribbean, most of their power grid was completely destroyed. Tesla quickly started quietly shipping Powerwalls there to try to get power back on to some houses with solar arrays.

Now CEO Elon Musk says that Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries and solar on a bigger scale.

Puerto Rico’s electricity rates were already quite high at around $0.20 per kWh and reliant on fossil fuels.

Read More

Puerto Rico’s Grid Is Ruined. The Solar Industry Wants to Help

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Green Tech Media | by Emma Foehringer Merchant  | September 29, 2017

It’s been over a week since Maria tore through Puerto Rico, leaving a tangle of transmission lines in its wake. The hurricane knocked out all of the island’s electricity, just weeks after Irma took down electricity for 1 million people. Thousands still hadn’t had their electricity restored when the second storm arrived. 

Since Maria made landfall on the island, President Trump has been criticizing the National Football League and waffling on a waiver of the Jones Act, which would allow foreign vessels to bring aid to Puerto Rico. He finally lifted shipping restrictions yesterday.

Meanwhile, the situation on the ground is dire. Supplies that have arrived are reportedly sitting on the docks. FEMA has said 42 percent of people are without drinkable water, and nearly everyone still lacks electricity access.

Read More

After the Hurricanes, Can We Rebuild a Stronger, Greener Grid?

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Slate | By Eleanor Cummins | September 27 2017

Post-earthquake Japan and monsoon-battered India aren’t just repairing their grids - they’re improving them. It’s time for hurricane-battered Americans to do the same.

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, it destroyed the island’s sole electrical grid, killing more than 90 percent of the distribution network that connects consumers to their source of power. Experts currently estimate that much of the island won’t regain its connection for the next six months. And up north, Hurricane Irma’s historic winds put Florida in the dark, as 4 million utility accounts lost power from Miami to Tampa.


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Green Building Catches On

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BUILDER | September 27, 2017

A new study out Wednesday from Dodge Data & Analytics and the National Association of Home Builders reports that green construction is rapidly gaining traction among both single family and multifamily home builders, according to new research published in the Green Multifamily and Single Family Homes 2017 SmartMarket Brief.

At least one third of single family and multifamily builders who were surveyed said that green building is a significant portion of their overall activity (more than 60% of their portfolio). By 2022, this number should increase to nearly one half in both the single family and multifamily sectors. Within this group, nearly 30% of multifamily builders fall into the category of "dedicated" green builders (more than 90% of their portfolio). On the single family side, the percentage of "dedicated" green builders is nearly 20%, but that share is expected to grow sizably by 2022.

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Wind, Other Renewable Energy Sources are the Answer to Climate Change

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Houston Chronicle | By Michael Goggin | September 23 2017

With more than 22,000 employees in Texas, America's wind energy industry feels the pain inflicted by Hurricane Harvey. Wind companies have pledged $1 million to Habitat for Humanity to help Texas communities recover from the disaster.

But wind energy is helping Texas recover in other ways as well. Our industry has invested more than $38 billion in Texas wind projects, which pay landowners more than $60 million annually in lease payments. For many farming and ranching families, that additional income allows them to stay on their land.

Texas has also become a world leader in manufacturing the energy technologies of the 21st century, with 40 factories building wind turbine parts. Several thousand Texans work as wind turbine technicians - America's fastest growing job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Too much energy creates a challenge for Texas electricity grid

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Houston Chronicle | By Chris Tomlinson | September 22, 2017

AUSTIN - Texas produces more energy than we know what to do with, and some electricity generators say that could cause serious problems in the future.

From fossil fuels to renewable sources, the state has an embarrassment of riches. The huge energy surpluses drive electricity prices so low that most of Texas's coal-fired power plants are losing money, nuclear power is struggling, and new wind farms will be hard to finance when tax credits expire in 2020, according to experts who spoke at the Texas Renewable Energy Summit in Austin last week.

With little or no profits, generators say they have no incentive to build new power plants, which they say could lead to a future electricity shortage. Many want an overhaul of the wholesale electricity market so they can make higher profits.

The Texas Public Utilities Commission and Legislature should hold steady.

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YOUNICOS JOINS TEAM AGGREKO

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Berlin, Germany and Glasgow, UK

Storage pioneer partners with the world’s leading provider of modular, mobile power

Aggreko is excited to announce its £40m agreement to acquire Younicos, a global market leader in the development and deployment of integrated energy systems, based on battery storage. This acquisition strengthens our position as global energy markets continue to evolve and is in line with our strategy to invest in technology in order to reduce the cost of energy for our customers.

Younicos delivers smart energy solutions integrating battery storage, which are modular and scalable. Its knowledge of batteries combined with proprietary control systems, enables the seamless integration and management of all forms of power, including thermal, renewable and battery energy resources; this is becoming critical in an increasingly distributed energy market.

Global energy markets are changing: decarbonising and becoming more decentralised and digital. As renewables penetration increases, intermittency becomes a more difficult issue to manage across grid systems.  Integration and control of thermal, renewable and battery systems will be increasingly required to ensure power stability and reliability are maintained. Off grid and microgrid energy solutions are ever more integrating renewable generation, whilst industrial and commercial customers are also taking advantage of opportunities for renewable integration and demand-side management.

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What's the best way to buy renewable energy?

Big businesses are pursuing renewable energy goals at an increasingly rapid clip. Where to begin?

Big businesses are pursuing renewable energy goals at an increasingly rapid clip. Where to begin?

Green Biz | September 21, 2017

Buying renewable energy is getting easier.

Large U.S. corporations signed contracts this year through Sept. 19 to buy more than 2000 megawatts of renewable power, up nearly 30 percent from last year, and up from just 70 megawatts in 2012, according to the Business Renewables Center.

More than 100 large companies around the world — many based in the United States — have pledged to buy enough renewables to match 100 percent of the power they use. To achieve this, many companies are buying solar, wind or other renewable power directly from suppliers. Participants in VERGE17 in Santa Clara, California, this week discussed their companies' various renewable-power pursuits.

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