Georgetown won $1 million to capture and store solar energy. Here’s what happens next

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The city of Georgetown is going one step farther to become energy-independent.

After winning a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies U.S. Mayors Challenge on Monday, city officials said they plan to lease rooftop space on homes to install solar panels as well as additional space to install storage batteries that will allow the city to collect and store solar-generated energy. Leases will require final approval from Georgetown City Council.

“(This idea) means Georgetown can be a model to revolutionize how renewable energy is produced at the local level instead of 500 miles away,” Mayor Dale Ross said Wednesday.

The initial project will place nearly 400 solar panels on 10-15 roofs in the city and plant eight to nine batteries that will store energy in case of a power outage, said Chris Foster, Georgetown’s manager of resource planning and integration. Foster said in the case of electricity outages, the batteries can automatically turn on and residents won’t even notice.

Home-based solar panels and batteries will provide more physical energy reliability during outages as city utility workers can make repairs to power systems without disrupting residents, Foster said. The first panels should be up and running by summer 2019, he said.

Foster added that residents who participate in the program to install the solar panels can save nearly half the cost of paying for installation on their own.

“This project proves that you can develop local solar assets at a cost similar to the wholesale price of energy on (the Texas electric grid),” Foster said.

This summer, Georgetown became the largest U.S. city to purchase all of its energy needs from renewable sources, a move city officials said includes set price rates, reducing vulnerability to potential inflation.

Georgetown purchases 144 megawatt-hours from the EDF Renewable Energy’s Spinning Spur 3 wind farm near Amarillo, and 150 MWh from the NRG Energy’s Buckthorn solar plant in West Texas.

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ U.S. Mayors Challenge

The U.S. Mayors Challenge is a yearlong competition that had city leaders from across the country develop proposals that would reinvent a city’s practices on health, economics and climate change, among other issues.

Of 300 cities that initially participated, 35—including Georgetown and the city of Austin—received $100,000, technical support and six months to test and learn from their ideas. Nine winners received an additional $1 million each to make the proposals a reality.

What’s next?

Jackson Daly, assistant to the city manager, said City Council will consider final approval of the program in November. A search for a project manager and the purchase of necessary equipment will start immediately, he said.

Daly said the project will flip the traditional way Georgetown procures energy and will reduce the city’s dependency on outside sources.

“Instead of investing in renewable energy plants as we’ve done before, (Georgetown producing its own energy) would allow the city to increase and grow in excess power diversity,” he said.

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  1. “This project proves that you can develop local solar assets at a cost similar to the wholesale price of energy on (the Texas electric grid),” Foster said.

    This summer, Georgetown became the largest U.S. city to purchase all of its energy needs from renewable sources, a move city officials said includes set price rates, reducing vulnerability to potential inflation.”

    The mayor, city council, and GM of Georgetown Utilities refuse to reveal how much the city contracted to pay per megawatt for the wind and solar contracts that it has signed. Moreover, they refuse to release any studies they may have performed to determine how well their assumptions regarding wind and solar will hold up against electric energy generated from alternative sources, i.e. nuclear, natural gas, etc.

    So, why should a person take the word of a city official that claims the cost of self-generated – rooftop – solar energy will be similar to the price of ERCOT wholesale energy? And what does similar mean?

    The fully allocated cost of 500 kWh of electric energy from Georgetown Utilities is 13.98 cents per kWh. Residents in Round Rock, who can shop for an electric energy plan that meets their needs, as opposed to the needs of local politicians, can choose from 34 different plans and pay on average 28 percent less for the same amount of power than they pay in Georgetown. I guess it depends on your definition of similar!

    If Georgetown’s officials really believed they were delivering a better deal for their constituents, they would open the market to competition. Once people realized what a good deal they are getting from Georgetown Utilities, they would shun all comers. Or would they?

  2. On a large-scale basis, the true cost of the solar panels and storage batteries will be larger than many people realize.

    Although the test cases will be subsidized by the Bloomberg grants, a large-scale rollout of the concept would require a substantial investment by each customer. How much? No one at the city seems to know.

    First out of the box is the cost of the solar panels and the storage batteries as well as the embedded financing charges. Depending on the terms of the financing, it can increase the cost of the panels and batteries by 35 to 50 percent.

    In addition to the installation and financing costs, there are the maintenance costs over the estimated life of the assets. Moreover, assuming nothing lasts forever, the panels and batteries will need to be replaced. So, the purchase costs and installation costs get a second or third go around. Almost done!

    For the foreseeable future utility companies will have to keep and maintain their extensive network of poles and wires in case the panels and the batteries fail. As they will from time to time! Most people will not put up without power for an extended period of time.

    As more and more people go off the grid because of the solar panels and the storage batteries, the utility companies will have to find a way to replace the revenues that will be lost. They are required to maintain the poles and wires.

    As fewer customers remain tethered to the poles and wires, the utility companies will have to increase their rates to maintain the legacy systems or find a way to bill the panel and battery customers. In any case, the cost of maintaining the poles and wires should be attributable to the solar panel and the battery installations.

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Ali Linan
Ali Linan began covering Georgetown for Community Impact Newspaper in 2018. Her reporting focuses on education and Williamson County. Ali hails from El Paso and graduated from Syracuse University in 2017.
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