City Council Preview – Public Comment on Renewable Denton Plan

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The Denton City Council will meet on Tuesday, December 15 for a 1pm Work Session followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session at 215 E. McKinney Street. Click here for a full agenda with backup material.

There are many important topics on the agenda, but one of the most consequential will be a public hearing on the proposed Renewable Denton Plan. And this community discussion is quite timely in light of the recently-ended climate change talks in Paris involving leaders from around the world.

In the lead-up to these talks, there was much reporting on how nations around the world compared in their pursuit of renewable sources of energy. Consider the following chart outlining both the goals and progress toward renewables of certain nations in a recent report by Bloomberg:

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This article focused specifically on the renewable energy goals of countries in the EU:

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It is important to put the Renewable Denton Plan – and some of the surrounding controversy by those who claim to want to tackle climate change – in this context. There is not a nation highlighted on these charts that will reach the goal Denton plans to reach in 2019 when we scale our already noteworthy 40% renewable energy portfolio to 70%. In our own country, the goal is 20% by 2020 and it doesn’t appear that we will reach that target.  Norway can’t reach 70%, but Denton can.

To some, this is still unacceptable to the extent that the Renewable Denton Plan involves the creation of natural gas quick start generation plants housed here in the city of Denton. But for those who are concerned with reliance on fossil fuels and the emissions involved in generating electricity from them, the following facts are important:

  • Denton’s current plan involves significant investment in fossil fuels to meet 60% of our energy needs, including coal and natural gas. The Renewable Denton Plan reduces that to 30% reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Renewable Denton  will use 37% less natural gas than our current plan. All the talk about how many gas wells it will take to power our quick start generating plants misses the crucial point that Renewable Denton requires a significantly smaller amount of natural gas to power our city.
  • Renewable Denton assumes divestment from the Gibbons Creek coal generating power plant.
  • Renewable Denton results in a 75% decrease in emissions created to power the city as compared to the current plan.

And the Renewable Denton Plan is able to do this while maintaining low rates and ensuring reliability to our customers.

This nation and this world is filled with cities and nations with all sorts of plans and goals as it relates to renewable energy. The city of Denton is one of the few among all of them that is consistently taking bold steps in the right direction. 40% in 2009. 70% by 2019. This is how you get to 100%.

Does Denton Need Ethics Reform?

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McCarthy-Brunton-UnAmerican

Recent newspaper stories and guest columns have raised the issue of ethics laws governing the behavior of local public officials and have some in our community demanding “ethics reform” in the form of a new robust Denton Ethics Ordinance.

Much of the concern centers on the fact that Denton doesn’t have its own ethics “ordinance.” We have an Ethics Resolution that lists out certain values by which fellow council members agree to abide. Things like:

- I will be ethical
- I will be service-oriented
- I will be fiscally responsible
- I will be communicative
- I will be cooperative
- I will be progressive and receptive to new ideas
- I will not be delinquent in paying monies owed the City

To be sure, it reads a bit more like the Boy Scout Oath than it does a substantial set of laws governing the behavior of public officials charged with overseeing a city of 120,000 with a budget nearing $1 billion. If all we had was this resolution and these statements of values keeping potential corruption in check, I would be in complete agreement that we need strong ethics reform and we need it now.

But the resolution goes further and points to a long list of Civil Statutes, State Penal Laws, and City Documents that apply to Denton elected officials and city employees and carry with them a clear path toward prosecution and hefty penalties.

Consider the following list of state laws on the books that govern our actions as public officials. Consider, as well, that any citizen with evidence that a public official is violating one or more of these laws can go to our police chief, the district attorney, the grand jury, even the Texas Attorney General to raise the issue.

ETHICS MATTER LEGAL REFERENCE PENALTY
Financial Statements Gov’t Code 145-003 and 572 Class B Misdemeanor
Open Meetings Act  Chapter 551 Class B Misdemeanor
Public Information Act  Chapter 552 Class B Misdemeanor
Conflicts of Interest Gov’t Code 171 Class A Misdemeanor
Disclosure of Certain Relationships Gov’t Code 176 Class C/B/A Misdeanor depending on amount of money involved
Official Misconduct C.C.P Art 3.04
Nepotism Gov’t Code 573.041 Class C Misdemeanor
Retaliation Prohibited for Reporting Violations of Law Gov’t Code 554.002
Confidentiality of Information in Bids or Proposals Gov’t Code 252.049 Class C or B Misdemeanor/Forfeiture and Bar
Bribery Penal Code 36.02 2nd Degree Felony
Improper Influence Penal Code 36.04 Class A Misdemeanor
Tampering with Witness Penal Code 36.05 3rd Degree Felony
Obstruction or Realiation Penal Code 36.06 3rd or 2nd Degree Felony
Offering Gift to Public Servant Penal Code 36.09 Class A Misdemeanor
Gift to Public Servant by Person Subject to His Jurisdiction Penal Code 36.08
Abuse of Official Capacity Penal Code 36.02 Class C Misdemeanor to 1st Degree Felony
Official Oppression Penal Code 39.03 Class A Misdemeanor
Misuse of Official Information Penal Code 39.06 3rd Degree Felony
Council Travel Ordinance No. 2006-273  
Denton Ethics Resolution R2006-003
Ethics Portion of Resolution R2009-015

We held a council discussion on Monday to discuss this issue, examine the current statutes, and provide an opportunity for those who feel something stronger is needed to demonstrate that need. The very relevant question was asked of our fellow council members: what is missing from this list? What ethical issue is not already being addressed by this long list of state laws? What problem is there that needs to be solved?

So far, there has been no specific answer or answers to these questions. I remain unconvinced that there is a problem with the current laws, but look forward to hearing from others on this topic.

City Council Preview – December 1, 2015

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The Denton City Council meets today at noon for a Work Session followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session. There’s much on this agenda worth discussing, so take a look at the complete agenda and let’s highlight some things here…

PROPOSED CHANGES IN DRILLING AND PRODUCTION FEES
Ever since the council set out to amend our current gas well ordinance, we recognized the need to update and revise the fees associated with this activity. This is for two reasons. First, we need to make sure our fees align with the work done by the city in order to properly facilitate the planning process as well as properly inspect this industry according to our ordinance. The council has made it clear for several years that the city should in no way subsidize the gas drilling industry in town. If it costs the city X amount to operate our gas well inspections team, then that X amount should be passed along to the industry. The fee schedule is developed in order to maintain this balance. This is precisely why we have relied on a team of experts to dig into the numbers on two occasions in the last 5 years and advise the city on our fees.

Second, fees can also be used to encourage the type of industry behavior a community values. As we have seen in the struggle for local control with the oil and gas industry over the last couple of years, the city’s jurisdiction to mandate what it wants is severely limited by state law. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the city to utilize both carrots and sticks in order to encourage such activity in a way that is better for the city. Toward this end, the proposed fee schedule encourages operators to update their old gas well development plats as well as encourage the co-location of gas wells to avoid the unnecessary proliferation of drilling sites all over the city and in undesirable locations.

For more on the proposed fee schedule and how it compares to the current set of fees, check out this PowerPoint presentation.

RENEWABLE DENTON PLAN
We will have another public discussion on the proposed Renewable Denton Plan that aims to scale our renewable energy resources in our portfolio from 40% to 70% by 2019 (made up of solar and wind). Part of the plan calls for the creation of two natural gas quick start generation plants that will give DME control of its quick start needs in a more cost effective manner than relying on the market. Another part of the plan also assumes our divestment in a older coal generation plant at Gibbons Creek. By all counts, this plan is one of the most ambitious plans by a municipal electric provider in the nation in terms of its commitment and investment in renewable energy resources. It puts us on a trajectory to scale to 100% renewables as soon as that becomes more reliable and more cost effective. It puts us well beyond just about every long-term recommendation made by national organizations fighting climate change. And it does it all in a way that keeps our electricity on and our customers paying lower rates.

To see the PowerPoint for today’s council meeting, click here.

BUC-EE’S PROPOSAL TO COME TO DENTON
When the city council first heard a proposal to provide economic incentives for Buc-ee’s to come to Denton, my reaction was what I’m hearing from some of my fellow citizens: “We are seriously considering providing economic incentives for a gas station?” And I’ve had additional concerns along the way, such as the amount of the incentive, the rationale for providing incentives to the out parcel properties that do not yet have an identified user, and the impact of this development project on the nearby neighborhood. Much of these concerns that I and other council members raised along the way have led to a number of important things: a neighborhood meeting and the facilitation of communication between the business owner and those living in proximity, greater examination of the incentive package to more closely tie the incentive to a reimbursement for public infrastructure projects, greater clarity on what would and what wouldn’t count as an incentive for the surrounding parcels as they come online, and a bigger picture perspective on the benefit to Denton’s transportation assets along this stretch of I35.

Economic development for a city is complex. Commercial development is crucial for both necessary and desired city services for our citizens. At the end of the day, the cost to serve citizens in an average priced home in Denton is greater than the tax dollars generated by that home. Commercial development, both from the point of view of property tax and sales tax, helps subsidize the cost of services for our citizens. In other words, in most cases, commercial development pays more in city sales and property taxes than it receives in city services. But if our economic development efforts focused solely on this sort of equation (and many cities do), I would be deeply concerned.

A robust economic development policy must look beyond the obvious sales and property tax generators and also concern itself with: numbers of jobs, unemployment rates, average income in our city, cost of living, affordable housing, high end housing, long-term strategies toward fostering key industries in our city, developing the spirit of entrepreneurship, maintaining our creative class, avoiding the brain drain from our two universities, and the diversification of its commercial base in order to be more resilient in times of economic downturns.

While much attention as of late has been place on this Buc-ee’s proposal, this is far from being the largest, most significant, or most important project pursued by Denton over the last couple of years. We recently landed the largest distribution facility Denton has even seen. Our downtown is booming and the explosion in sales tax revenue to the city is bettering our local businesses as well. This is in part due to key investments and focus on our greater Square area. One downtown merchant reported to me that last months sales were 22% over last year. Older neighborhoods, known for years as college rental areas, are starting to see a resurgence in investment and interest – property values and neighborhood integrity is increasing as a result. Our tech and startup community is vibrant and thriving due to maintained focus by community and city leaders over the last few years. This has resulted in the creation of a new Innovation District just East of downtown and near the train station where underutilized industrial properties are in desperate need of new life. The city just inked a deal that would result in the creation of our city’s first coworking and startup incubation space in that area in order to reignite a passion for entrepreneurship – a long-term strategy for building into our economy. We’ve been working with the Denton Community Market to find a new space and platform for small business development in that same area. And so much more….

There’s still much to do and more to create to invest in our local economy, but I am confident we are heading in the right direction. If the economic development strategies of Denton were reduced to bringing in a Buc-ee’s to town, I would be deeply worried. But we are doing so much more than that. I look forward to tonight’s discussion on this topic.

 

 

City Council Preview – November 17, 2015

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Today’s Denton City Council meeting begins with a Work Session at 2pm followed by our Regular Session at 6:30pm – both at City Hall at 215 E. McKinney Street in downtown Denton, Texas. Click here for a full agenda of Tuesday’s meeting with backup material.

MaxheadroomMpegMan

I am traveling on business in Florida and will be absent for the Work Session portion of our meeting. However, recent changes in state law allow me to participate remotely during the Regular Session and I plan to do so. What that means is that I’ll be sitting in a hotel room in Orlando connected to the meeting via Skype. I’ll be staring at an iPad and anyone watching will see a big monitor sitting in my place in the council chambers. It will likely be a little awkward for me and the rest of the council as we work out the uniqueness of chiming in to speak and voting with this new arrangement. But those who were culture consumers in the 90s will certainly appreciate the Max Headroom comparisons on Tuesday night.

Here’s what you will see the council discussing on Tuesday:

LANDFILL MINING
We were set to discuss this a few weeks back, but the item was postponed due to lack of time. I find this entire concept fascinating. Technology now allows us to go back in to portions of our landfill in order to recover recyclable materials that have been preserved, remove them, and make more room for additional solid waste. The Denton Landfill is one of many examples of world-class sustainability initiatives underway at the City of Denton.

Here’s the presentation the council will see on this topic on Tuesday.

GAS INSULATED SUBSTATIONS
During the last council discussion on DME substations, the suggestion was made to pursue a different technology for the city’s substation which would radically transform the visual aesthetics of these electrical necessities. Council indicated their interest in looking into the possibility of such a substation at the site for the new Eagle Substation near UNT and South of Eagle Drive. We’ll be hearing a follow-up report to that request and giving direction on moving forward.

BUC-EE’S IN DENTON?
buceesBy now, you’ve heard the reports of a possible Bucee’s store in Denton on a vacant piece of land of I35 and between the Wind River neighborhood. Though this land is already zoned for this sort of business (after all it fronts one of the busiest highways in the nation), because Buc-ee’s is requesting an economic development incentives, this business’ entrance into Denton will be discussed by the City Council. Two neighborhood meetings have already been held with city council member Joey Hawkins and relevant city staff members to allow the developer the chance to hear the concerns of the neighborhood and adjust accordingly. As I understand it, the owner of Bucee’s is willing to create a significant buffer between the neighborhood and his project as well as preserve a well loved large pond that is adjacent to the neighborhood.

So why consider incentivizing this project? In order for this project to be successful, significant infrastructure improvements must be in place. Chief among them is a Brinker Road connection across the highway into this parcel of land. If you’ve ever tried to access the 35 North access road from Brinker coming from the Loop 288 area, you know how dangerous and busy that intersection is. Discussion of this project has been had with TxDOT and staff from Regional Transportation Council to come up with a plan that would create a solution for this intersection during the Phase I build out of the I35 expansion. That means that Phase I would see significant mobility improvements all along this corridor, including Mayhilll Road, Brinker Road, and the Loop 288/35 intersection. The plan to bring Brinker along in this scenario requires an estimated $2 million local match. It appears that Bucee’s is willing to front that money in addition to funding many other public infrastructure improvements (to the tune of over $6 million) in order to make this project happen. The incentives would be structured to help pay for this investment in public infrastructure.

I look forward to hearing this discussion, but am increasingly impressed with the way this business owner is working with the community to create a project that is good for Denton.

SEVERAL ZONING CASES
There are several zoning cases before the council during our regular session. Please consult our full agenda for the details of each of them to see if you are concerned by any of the proposed projects.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about the topics on our agenda, feel free to contact me at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.

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.

Slide01 Slide02 Slide03 Slide04 Slide05 Slide06 Slide07 Slide08 Slide09 Slide10 Slide11

 

 

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