Red City's Embrace of Green Energy Proves It Makes Good Fiscal Sense

Barely a half-hour north of Austin, the small Central Texas city of Georgetown is almost comically allergic to being identified with its large and left-leaning neighbor: "Austin's phrase is 'Keep Austin weird'," mayor Dale Ross joked last week. "What we say is, 'Austin, keep your weird'." It's a proudly conservative, red-voting community, with a large retiree population and a conspicuously pro-business outlook. It's also a green-power trendsetter. Georgetown recently became the first city in Texas, and one of a tiny handful nationwide, to abandon fossil fuels entirely. The fast-growing town of about 60,000 now relies entirely on renewable wind and solar sources for its energy supplies. But don't call them tree-huggers. Yes, city leaders say, it's all about the green - the folding cash kind. While City Hall's official website gives a token hat-tip to such environmental advantages as reducing pollution and saving water, officials characterize this transition as a smart business decision. With the 2012 expiration of the municipally-owned electric utility's s more conventional contracts, the town purposely sought new agreements that could lock in guaranteed rates for decades to come. They wanted to enable residents on fixed incomes, developers, and new businesses to make long-range financial plans without worrying about price spikes in a volatile energy market. They found those deals in renewable energy, first signing a long-term agreement with a sprawling wind farm near near Amarillo, and then with a newly constructed solar producer in West Texas. As those facilities came on line, Georgetown made good on its promise to go all-green by 2017. When the plan was first made public two years ago, Ross hastened to reassure any residents who might be worried that they were being swept up in an exercise in idealism. "No, environmental zealots have not taken over our city council, and we're not trying to make a statement on fracking or climate change," Ross wrote in an op-ed published in the Austin American-Statesman and in Time magazine. "Our move to wind and solar is chiefly a business decision based on cost and price stability." The environmental benefits, he implied, are the icing - if you like that sort of thing. Why is this good news? Because this red city's hard-headed shift to green is proof that the energy market is reaching a pragmatic tipping point where environmental responsibility can make smart business sense. "You don't need idealistic reasons to do it," said Georgetown resident and energy analyst Fred Beach, in an interview with the online magazine Bustle. "Just pragmatic reasons." Experts caution that as demand for renewable energy sources escalates, costs for future users may be higher. But the handful of users quick enough to lock in favorable long-term deals, as Georgetown has, can congratulate themselves on making smart business decisions for their residents.And if it's good for the environment, too? Call it a fringe benefit. After all, a spoonful of idealism can't hurt.   Continue reading...

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