Two days after a landmark international deal on climate change, the city of Denton is debating its push toward more renewable energy in the first two official public hearings on the Renewable Denton plan.
Seventy percent renewables is the goal, nearly doubling wind and solar power. That’s uncontroversial. It’s the non-renewable part of the plan that’s fueling controversy: to build two new natural gas power plants by 2019 to buttress renewable energy when needed. Many of its opponents are the same environmentalists who pushed through a short-lived ban on hydraulic fracturing last year.
“I just have a lot of questions,” said Jodi Ismert, one of a handful of the people who turned up at the Public Utilities Board meeting Monday morning to challenge the $220 million generating stations.
Opponents questioned the financial commitment, the environmental costs, and whether new technologies on the horizon would make even more renewable energy more feasible. While the plan would get the city off of electricity created by coal, new research has raised doubts about whether the methane emitted when natural gas is produced by hydraulic fracturing makes gas any cleaner than coal when all is said and done.
Others questioned the process and called for more transparency, and more time to consider options.
“Five years this plan has been worked on,” Ed Soph from the Denton Drilling Awareness Group told board members, “we find out about it when? This past October? I mean it’s just not right. The whole process is skewered.”
Phil Williams from Denton Municipal Electric, which drafted the plan, said the gas plants are necessary to back up the renewables and protect consumers from price spikes in the energy market. He said that because the gas units the city plans to buy are so efficient, less fracked natural gas would end up being used than if the city backed up the renewables by buying energy from the grid.
“The thing is that if we’re not running these units, somebody somewhere in Texas are having to run units, and the units they’re running are less efficient and would burn more gas,” Williams said.
In the end, the board voted overwhelmingly to support the plan. Board Chair Randy Robinson said he thinks the plan will keep the cost of electricity low for residents while ensuring that power is reliable and increasingly renewable.
“I think there’s a balance there,” said Robinson on the reliability side or perhaps the rate side.”
Next up for the Renewable Denton plan: a public hearing at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.