GEORGETOWN – Representatives from a nonprofit that advocates ending renewable energy subsidies told more than 100 people at a Georgetown meeting Tuesday night to demand the City Council release the prices the city is paying for its wind and solar contracts.
“Y’all are in a very tough situation,” said Bill Peacock, the vice president of research for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, to audience members at the Georgetown library. “The city is locked into wind and solar contracts through 2035 and 2043, and will buy somewhere between twice as much as needed and somewhat less than that for a long time.”
Rob Henneke, general counsel for the foundation, said the group had made an open records request for the price the city is paying for its renewable energy contracts but that the city has refused to release it. The city told the foundation it was not a good idea to release the information because “then nobody would ever sell electricity to Georgetown,” Henneke said.
City representatives said Wednesday they were working on responses to questions.
The city contracted for 20 years with a wind farm west of Amarillo and for 25 years with a solar power farm outside of Fort Stockton, officials have said.
Georgetown has lost $8.27 million on its renewable energy contracts from 2016 to 2018 due to depressed energy prices and is trying to renegotiate the contracts, city officials have said. The city bought more renewable power than it consumes and its losses come from having to sell the excess energy, officials have said. Georgetown raised electricity prices starting in February by $12.82 per month for the average customer.
Last week, the city released an opinion from an attorney it has hired, Lambeth Townsend, that said if the city made its renewable energy contracts public, it would violate the confidential provisions it has in them and “be hard put to find other suppliers willing to enter into agreements with the city in its future.”
Peacock said at the meeting Tuesday that the city had been claiming it was 100 percent powered by renewable energy but “it never came close” to that because it was still getting part of its energy from natural gas.
“They wouldn’t have made this mistake they made if there wasn’t this push for renewable energy,” Peacock said.
The city recently released a chart showing that part of its energy from 2016 to 2018 has come from its natural gas contract with the Mercuria energy company. “The city has never claimed that the electrons produced in West Texas are the same electrons consumed in Georgetown,” according to a previous city news release.
The city has also said that “the city did not move to wind and solar energy as a result of a goal to become 100 percent renewable.” The wind and solar contracts “were selected for price stability over the long term and reducing regulatory risk,” a release said. City Manager David Morgan has said that “renewable energy is not the issue at hand, but the long-term fixed-rate contracts.”
A few audience members at the foundation’s meeting Tuesday asked what the options were for the city and its taxpayers. Peacock said the options include getting the Legislature to pass a bill allowing the city’s residents to choose their own energy. They also include the city terminating the renewable energy contracts, he said.
But Townsend said in the statement released last week by the city that if Georgetown terminates its renewable energy contracts early, it would allow the energy companies “to immediately receive a large early termination payment, as calculated according to the contract, without going to court.”
Georgetown resident Ella Morer said after the meeting Tuesday she was living on a fixed income and the average $12 monthly increase in the electric bill affected her. She also said a lot of people in Georgetown didn’t know that the city was losing money on its renewable energy contracts because the city hadn’t held meetings about it.
Randy Hachtel, another Georgetown resident, said after the meeting that residents were being “bamboozled.”
“You don’t sign a 20-year contract on anything,” he said.