Former Vice President Al Gore outlined several warnings on climate change during his speech in Central Texas, but also took time to praise Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross’ leadership on shifting the predominately conservative city to renewable energy.
“We can disagree on all kinds of things and definitely do, but where we can find common cause in supporting what’s good for the public interest, then we need to do that,” he said. “It sounds kind of painfully obvious, but it’s been lost all too often in the last several years.”
Gore spoke at the GridNEXT Conference hosted by the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance. The goal was to connect renewable energy leaders and businesses with each other to share ideas. Kristina Ronneberg with the North Central Texas Council of Governments was holding a workshop with city leaders to show them ways to streamline communication with residents when they’re interested in pursuing renewable energy products.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do is help them standardize what the fees are, what the permitting process is and have it documented so a variety of staff can answer questions,” she said. “Too often, especially with small cities, it’s one staff member who holds that information in their own brain and other individuals and their staff — they’re not knowledgeable about it.”
Ross said driving Georgetown to get 100 percent of its energy from wind and solar was to help the city save money. Now other countries are starting to notice, he said.
“It’s truly put Georgetown on an international map,” the mayor said. “We did German TV last week, we did Japanese TV this morning.”
Chris Foster, manager of resource planning and integration for the city, said there will be long-term rate stability for people living in Georgetown.
“What we told them is the same price you pay right now, those contracts do not escalate,” he said.
Gore said Texas is the top wind producer in the United States and if Texas were its own country, it would rank sixth in the world for wind energy. This is helping the workforce, he said.
“Jobs — 22,000 jobs in Texas already are directly related to the wind industry,” he said. “On one day last March, wind met almost 50 percent of all Texas’ electricity needs.”
Foster says the city’s 100 percent renewable claim comes from how the annual energy usage compared to what the wind farms Georgetown has contracted with offsets each other.
In the event the wind doesn’t blow in the Panhandle or the sun stops shining, Georgetown’s officials say, “the lights would stay on because the Texas grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), will ensure power is available to meet demand.”