Will Denton’s Energy Future be Determined by a Few Fossil Fuel Fundamentalists?

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The Renewable Denton Plan has been six years in the making – the result of a bold step Denton took in 2009 to begin it’s path toward a sustainable energy future when it announced the city would be powered by 40% wind energy. Almost immediately, the city council made clear that we needed to keep moving in that direction. Even since I took office, the direction from council has been to explore ways to scale our renewable portfolio beyond 40% while maintaining affordable rates and excellent reliability.

There are very few cities in our nation anywhere close to 40%, yet within 6 years of that remarkable milestone, Denton announces a plan to increase the amount of renewables in our energy portfolio to 70% by 2019 – and divest ourselves of ownership in a coal-burning power plant in the process.

Think about that. Take away communities who have the benefit of hydro-electric generation, and you can count on two hands the number of cities in the United States who are anywhere near 70% renewables. In fact, the vast majority of cities haven’t even taken a single step in this direction.

This is how you scale to 100% renewables – a goal I fully embrace. You take bold steps when the market presents itself and you do so in a way that maintains low rates for your citizens and commercial customers. This is how you take meaningful steps toward doing our part to combat the cause of climate change. You continually and incrementally increase your investment in clean energy.

But there are some in our community who will tell us that anything less than 100% is unacceptable. I can appreciate the passion and ambition from which such a stand flows. The controversy, it seems, centers on the fact that the Renewable Denton Plan involves the creation of two gas generation plants within our city limits. Despite the fact that the overall emissions of Denton’s energy purchases under the Renewable Denton Plan are drastically reduced from our current position, despite the fact that we are divesting ourselves from ownership in a coal-fired power plant, and despite the fact that we are reducing our overall reliance on fossil fuels from 60% to 30%, the investment in gas generation is seen as unacceptable to some in our city.

Why? How is it that one of the most progressive and sustainable energy plans in the entire nation is finding its harshest critics among our self-professed environmental protectors?

There is a small, yet very loud portion of our population who hold a fundamentalist position against the use of fossil fuels. Those holding this position were emboldened by the historic citizen vote banning hydraulic fracking just a year ago. Even though the organizers of that movement went through great lengths to claim that the issue before the voters was narrowly focused on this specific operational method of extracting natural gas – even publicly claiming on many occasions that they weren’t opposed to drilling or fossil fuels in general – some who voted for this were motivated by an almost religious aversion to fossil fuels in all its forms and uses. And while my study of the election results indicate the vast majority of people who voted for the ban did so to keep industrial fracking operations out of their backyards, out of their neighborhoods, and away from parks and schools, this small band of fossil fuel fundamentalists would have you believe that 70% of our city voters went to the polls motivated by their same fundamentalist positions.

To them, whether it is 40% or 70%, it is never going to be enough. The fact that we are seen as national leaders in sustainable energy, it will never be enough if we are doing it with a plan that includes the creation of additional fossil fuel generation plants. Even though we are reducing our overall carbon footprint, significantly reducing emissions, and increasingly investing in clean energy generation, it is not enough.

I wish those who hold this view could stand with us as Denton takes another historic step in energy sustainability. At the same time, I am not interested in allowing a small minority of our population with such fundamentalist views to dictate the future of Denton’s energy policy and keep Denton from moving forward toward a more sustainable and renewable energy tomorrow.

The vast majority of citizens I talk to want us to continue our push beyond 40%, but in a way that maintains our competitive and affordable rates for everyone. I’m convinced that Denton can and will continue to make bold moves in our path toward 100%. This is why I have called for a council resolution to be adopted, concurrent with the vote on the Renewable Denton Plan, that would make explicit the city’s policy position to move toward 100% renewables when affordable opportunities present themselves.

The following slides show the many different options investigated during the ramp up to this plan and compares them on their overall cost and impact to both residential and commercial ratepayers.

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