Is a Texas Town the Future of Renewable Energy?

A high-wattage Republican Mayor of Georgetown, Texas, has become the unlikeliest hero of the green revolution

Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, has a big smile, a big handshake and a big personality. In last year’s election, he won big, with 72 percent of the vote. The key to his success? “Without being too self-reflective,” he says, “I just like people.” He’s a Republican, and his priorities are party staples: go light on regulation, be tough on crime, keep taxes low. But the thing that is winning him international renown is straight out of the liberal playbook—green power. Thanks to his (big) advocacy, Georgetown (pop. 67,000) last year became the largest city in the United States to be powered entirely by renewable energy.

Previously, the largest U.S. city fully powered by renewables was Burlington, Vermont (pop. 42,000), home to Senator Bernie Sanders, the jam band Phish and the original Ben & Jerry’s. Georgetown’s feat is all the more dramatic because it demolishes the notion that sustainability is synonymous with socialism and GMO-free ice cream. “You think of climate change and renewable energy, from a political standpoint, on the left-hand side of the spectrum, and what I’ve done is toss all those partisan political thoughts aside,” Ross says. “We’re doing this because it’s good for our citizens. Cheaper electricity is better. Clean energy is better than fossil fuels.”

In a twist that has some Republicans in this oil- and gas-rich state whistling Dixie, Ross is now friends with Al Gore, who featured Ross in An Inconvenient Sequel, the 2017 follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth, his Oscar-winning documentary about global warming. “We bonded right away,” Ross recalls. “I said, ‘Mr. Vice President, we’ve got a lot in common. You invented the internet. I invented green energy.’” Trained as an accountant, Ross still works as one—being mayor of Georgetown is a part-time job—and there’s no mistaking his zeal for the other kind of green. When conservatives complain about his energy politics, he is quick to remind them that the city has the lowest effective tax rate in Central Texas.