Denton’s city council will take up a proposed plan to boost the amount of power the city uses to 70 percent by 2019 in a work session on Tuesday. While there’s wide agreement that using more renewable energy sources is a good thing, the rub for some more environmentally-oriented Dentonites is the part of the plan that doesn’t come from renewables. The Renewable Denton plan calls for building two new power plants run on natural gas.
“All we’re asking for is for Denton Municipal Electric to put more options on the table,” says Ed Soph, a University of North Texas music professor and member of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group.
Soph says the power plants raise a host of concerns: Building the plants is expensive and it could cost a lot to keep them going. The federal government already says ozone levels are too high to be healthy in Denton, and emissions from new power plants would add to that. Soph says it just feels like the city is missing the point that residents were trying to make when they voted to ban fracking last year, which the Texas legislature overturned.
“We’re being put in a position where the product that’s being produced by the practice that we banned is going to be used by the city,” Soph says. “And how do we know that as cost saving methods they’re not going to get that gas from right here in Denton by fracking in Denton?”
Denton Drilling Awareness Group has contracted a study of the costs and benefits of going to 100 percent renewables, instead of the 70 percent that Denton Municiipal Electric has proposed. He hopes the city will contract an independent review as well.
Phill Williams, general manager for Denton Municipal Electric, says that when his staffers crunched the numbers, they came to the conclusion that the Renewable Denton plan is the best combination to increase renewables, maintain reliability and keep rates down for customers. He says the proposed mix would keep rates flat or even reduce them, but “going to 100 percent would cause us to have rate increases in the future,” he says.
Texas wind and solar production is growing and transmission lines are improving. For a few hours in September, wind farms produced so much electricity that they dropped the price of electricity below zero by pushing out more energy than the state’s residents needed. Councilwoman Keely Briggs thinks the city should wait for better green technology, and not saddle itself with old fossil fuel technology.
“We’re going to be paying for them for over 20 years. It’s a really significant amount of money,” she says.
The Denton Mayor Chris Watts says he wants to balance all of his residents’ concerns.
“There’s economic interests, and there’s environmental interests,” says Denton Mayor Chris Watts. “It’s just going to take some good vetting to make sure that we come up with a solution that maximizes each one of those interests, that one isn’t held above the other.”
The Denton City Council won’t vote on any of these issues today. They’re just beginning to talk officially about the city’s energy future.