Recently, the message on Texas clean energy has been getting clearer – the market is driving the clean energy economy forward. And some of those spreading the message are making it loud and clear.
Case in point, the city of Georgetown, a predominately Republican city, shifted to 100 percent renewable energy in 2015. Jim Briggs, the city’s General Manager-Utilities, clarified, “We didn’t do this to save the world – we did this to get a competitive rate and reduce the risk for our consumers.” Additionally, Briggs notes that switching to renewables will hedge against future fuel and regulatory risks.
Even if reducing risk was the primary reason for Georgetown going 100 percent renewable, the move will also slash air pollution and contribute to a healthier Texas. This shift not only has brought about a significant price decline in electricity, but has also brought millions of dollars of new investment to the city – proving to be a great economic development tool.
And Georgetown isn’t the only example. More and more Texas voices – ranging from multimillion dollar corporations to universities and school districts – are speaking up about their investments in clean energy. And the motivating reason is the same: economics.
Central Texas’ leading grocery chain, H-E-B, has always prioritized being a good steward to the community. And H-E-B is now is the largest private owner of solar power systems in the region. George Presses, vice president of fuel and energy at H-E-B, states, “Part of H-E-B’s responsibility […] is to improve our use of natural resources, which we hope will also lower energy costs.”
The Kimberly-Clark Corporation, a multinational personal care company also headquarted in Texas, is focused on becoming more energy efficient and has an ambitious 2022 greenhouse gas reduction goal of 20 percent. As the first major step towards reaching this goal, the company will purchase 245 MW of electricity from wind facilities in Texas and Oklahoma. The renewable energy will allow for a 25 percent reduction in emissions as soon as this year, surpassing the goal four years ahead of schedule. This huge reduction of 550,000 tons of carbon annually is the equivalent of removing 116,178 passenger vehicles from the road.
“These two renewable energy projects … put Kimberly-Clark on track to deliver significant multimillion dollar cost savings from energy and climate projects by 2022,” Lisa Morden, Global Head of Sustainability at Kimberly-Clark, said. “It’s a powerful demonstration of sustainability initiatives having both great environmental and business benefits.”
Texas power players
“Solar energy was once previously viewed as being an expensive alternative to fossil fuels. Those days are ancient history.”
Texas’ largest power-generator, Luminant, is also taking advantage of clean energy’s promising economics. In 2016 the company added 116 MW of solar power to its energy mix, and just last year purchased a solar development project, through its parent company Vistra, in West Texas with the capacity of 180 MW. Luminant, which has traditionally produced most of its energy using coal, now sees solar as a wise option. Chief executive Mac McFarland explains, “Solar energy was once previously viewed as being an expensive alternative to fossil fuels. Those days are ancient history.”
This shift toward renewable fuel sources was accentuated by the announcement that Luminant will be closing three of its coal plants, comprising over half of the generator’s total coal capacity. The decision was made based on challenging plant and market economics, as my colleague John Hall elaborates upon in his recent blog post.
Private entities and cities are not the only ones taking a seat at the clean energy table – increasingly, universities and school districts are realizing the importance of renewables.
Rice University in Houston has worked with power company MP2 Energy to fully integrate several energy management products that have helped curb energy use and costs. The university also has a first-of-its-kind off-site community solar power project, integrating 3 MW of solar into Rice University’s electricity portfolio (or enough to power approximately 600 homes during peak demand). MP2 Energy’s CEO, Jeff Starcher, states, “This deal demonstrates that solar is truly becoming competitive in the most competitive electricity market in the U.S.”
With economics on our side, Texas can build a brighter, more affordable energy future.
In 2015, Austin-based Huston-Tillotson University became the first private historically black college or university in the nation to power its university buildings using solar energy – 240kW of solar to be exact, which will provide as much as 10 percent of the power used by the school. The resulting clean electricity will cut carbon pollution by more than 260 tons annually, enough to take 32 cars off the road. It may seem small, but it’s a big start: The university has also signed a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2048, increase renewable energy use, and expand energy and water efficiency programs. In addition to reaping the potential savings from reduced energy use and electric bills, Huston-Tillotson’s President and CEO, Colette Pierce Burnette, hopes investing in low-carbon clean energy will help “develop students into leaders prepared for a global future.”
And as for younger students, Austin Independent School District (ISD) made a commitment to purchase 30 percent of its electricity from renewables. Since then, the school district has been one of the largest subscribers to the Austin Energy GreenChoice program – Austin ISD currently gets 13 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and ranks second nationally among K-12 school purchases.
Solar and wind power are more common and affordable than ever, and Texas cities, businesses, and schools are spreading the message. With economics on our side, Texas can build a brighter, more affordable energy future.
By Sarah Ryan
Photo source: Flickr/Matt Turner