Denton is considering an ambitious $1.3 billion plan to ramp up the amount of energy it gets from renewable sources. The goal is to get 70 percent from renewables by 2019. Denton Municipal Electric is one of 72 public electric companies in Texas. The utility made waves 6 years ago when it announced that the city would get 40 percent of its power from wind.
“Texas is at a little over 10 percent renewable energy in Texas. Austin is at 23 percent,” DME spokesman Brian Daskam says. “So going to 70 percent by any measure puts us ahead of the game on renewable energy.”
The Renewable Denton plan, as it’s called, would get the city off of coal entirely. It’d get a lot more power from wind, add solar to the mix, and get most of the rest from natural gas or nuclear. At an open house the power company put on to tout the plan, Denton resident Debbie Pressley says it just fits with Denton.
“I think if you look at Denton as a whole, you look at the recycling program and all of that stuff that we already do, it’s a forward thinking city that wants to be self-sustainable,” says Pressley. “And anything that they can do to take another step is a good thing.”
For now, 100 percent renewable isn’t a possibility for Denton. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Since Denton can’t build a hydro-electric dam without a river to feed it, some kind of backup system is needed. So the city plans to build a couple of quick-starting natural gas power plants that it could run in short bursts. And that’s not cool with Keely Briggs.
“If you invest in something, you’re going to use it. Because you have it. So we are binding ourselves to fossil fuels,” Briggs says. “And I don’t know if you’re familiar with our story, but our citizens aren’t really into fracking and natural gas.”
Briggs is a stay-at-home mom turned anti-fracking activist, who won a seat on city council last spring. In 2014, Denton voters approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing within city limits. Gas companies sued, and this year the state legislature passed a bill making it illegal for cities to enact fracking bans. So Briggs says she’d rather wait until better technology makes 100 percent renewable a possibility, and then get off gas for good. Most likely that means waiting for battery technology to improve so that energy can be stored for when renewables aren’t generating enough power. Meanwhile, she says the city should be reducing energy by investing in upgrading efficiency.
For resident Larry Luce, the problem isn’t fossil fuels, it’s finances. He’s worried the city is rushing into this Renewable Denton plan without really thinking it through. “We will be in debt for a long time paying this all off. And you’d like to have some faith and confidence that it is a reasonable plan,” he says.
Denton Municipal Electric’s Brian Daskam says he isn’t bothered by criticism. Actually, he welcomes it.
“That’s the kind of thing we want to hear, so that it’ll give City Council the chance to judge between the proposed plan that we’re showing them and the feedback that we’re getting from citizens,” he says. “
Denton City Council is expected to take up the plan by the end of the year.