Renewable Denton Plan: An Appeal to Reason
If you have been following along you are aware that our City Council will soon be deciding whether or not to approve the DME proposed Renewable Denton Plan. This proposed plan could lead our city to an energy portfolio consisting of 70% renewables through wind and solar power purchases, exiting our partnership in an existing coal-fired energy plant near Bryan, Texas, and building two natural-gas fired quick start plants here in Denton.
The mission given to DME by council on January 6, 2015 (prior to me taking office) offered three directives:
- to increase our renewable energy footprint
- while providing safe, reliable power
- in a way that does not drive increased rates.
Praise for our DME Team
I applaud the effort put forth by our team at DME to answer city council’s renewable energy challenge in less than 10 months. That we have a municipal electric staff capable of drafting a renewable energy plan that would by all accounts exceed the renewable energy goals that the rest of the world’s governments and energy experts struggle with is nothing short of amazing and a testament to our city’s can do spirit. Their enthusiasm to make sure Denton does its part to tackle this global challenge is admirable.
Trust But Verify
But I do believe that when it comes to initiatives and investments exceeding $220,000,000 (out of the gate, not counting future operating costs) and multi-decade impacts (environmental, health, and economic) that we should employ a principle advocated by President Ronald Reagan: Trust but verify. It’s not because council has a lack of trust in DME. I simply believe that council should rigorously challenge DME’s conclusions and recommendations. Before we make this huge decision we should verify the plan. To verify in this instance means that we bring in one or more third party independent renewable energy consultants to 1) recommend a plan that meets council’s challenge to increase our renewable energy footprint while providing safe, reliable power in a way that does not drive increased rates; and 2) critically review and recommend revisions to the current Renewable Denton Plan. These independent consultants should be selected by council and report their findings directly to council.
Why Consultants? Eight Simple Reasons
- The Renewable Denton Plan requires a significant financial obligation. Building the two gas plants that are a part of the proposed Renewable Denton Plan will require over $220,000,000 to build. This figure does not account for their ongoing operating costs. Walking away from the coal fired plant that we co-own will see us likely absorbing ~$150,000,000 in debt. When it comes to spending and obligating citizen dollars at this scale we need more than one expert opinion.
- Taking the time to get it right is the prudent approach. When it comes to making decisions for this community that impact health, environment, and economics/rates across multiple decades we need more than one expert opinion. It is prudent to take the time to get all of the information.
- We don’t know everything and we have not thought of everything. In review of the Renewable Denton Plan I – along with the rest of council – have asked several questions to staff. I asked a question in October regarding natural gas processing, compressors, and pipelines that would be required for the natural gas plants. Staff did not have the answer and sought the assistance of ReSolved Energy Consultants to provide an answer. I appreciate that staff went to that length to find the answer. But it underscores my point that we need independent experts to help us understand if there are aspects of building out our renewable energy portfolio and operating natural gas plants that we either do not know or have yet to consider.
- Our team has come to the conclusion that energy storage is not yet viable at utility scale. However… a quick review of the Texas Public Utility Commission list of current and upcoming electric facilities (see lines 225 and 238 in particular) shows that compressed air energy storage (CAES) projects are being implemented at a scale which far exceeds the 220 mega watts of electricity the Renewable Denton Plan’s gas plants are proposed to generate. Is it possible that Denton too could build one of these CAES plants somewhere within Texas where the geologic conditions are right for such a facility? It doesn’t matter where our quick start/rapid response energy plant is located so long as it is connected to the ERCOT grid (just like our coal plant is not within Denton or even in close proximity to Denton). We need independent experts to identify and review all of the storage technologies available currently and on the immediate horizon. Let’s make infrastructure decisions like this knowing that no stone was left unturned.
- We have experts on the team, but we don’t have all the experts we need. Without a doubt we have many energy experts on our DME staff. And DME has put their best and brightest on the Renewable Denton Plan. This team has a combined 316 years of experience providing and managing electricity in Texas. However, upon review of staff resumes our expertise and experience appears to be deeply rooted in the traditional practices of using fossil fuels (coal and natural gas) to generate electricity. TXU, Luminant, Enron, and ERCOT are the places where our expertise was developed. I don’t see anyone on our staff with specific, deep outside experience in developing or administering renewable energy programs and infrastructure.
- Our plan is not comprehensive. A formal ordinance enacting a renewable plan feels incomplete if it fails to address improving demand side management (consumer side energy efficiency), revising policy for next generation rooftop solar programs, reconstructing consumer pricing models that reward reduced consumption of electricity, and evolving the mission of our municipal electric in such a way that it significantly expands its focus on helping our community with more efficient energy consumption (saving energy) as opposed to facilitating energy consumption (selling energy).
- Council very recently moved the goal post for the Renewable Denton Plan… 100% renewable by 2030. As evidenced in this proposed Renewable Denton ordinance from December 15, 2015 (http://denton-tx.legistar.com/gateway.aspx?M=F&ID=f0732fd4-d043-4ca1-8739-dd503afc8836.pdf ) we are now considering adding the admirable goal of being 100% renewable by 2030 (just a short 12 years after the proposed Renewable Denton Plan takes effect and the $220,000,000 natural gas plants come online). This added goal was not part of council direction to DME back in January of 2015. The scope of what we need has changed but the deliverables have not. We need third party experts to verify that our Renewable Denton Plan will correctly position us economically to be 100% renewable by 2030.
- DME hires consultants all the time. Why should the Renewable Denton Plan be an exception? As an organization DME has an established track record of depending on expert consultants. As a point of fact, in DME’s ongoing Capital Improvements Project (CIP) we have budgeted ~$25,000,000 for consultants (see the top-right corner of page 12 in this presentation from a public work session on December 8, 2015: http://denton-tx.legistar.com/gateway.aspx?M=F&ID=6637ad03-6c8e-4684-882e-726104d48388.pdf) to help us do things such as site, design, and build sub-stations and transmission lines. If our expert staff seek the advise of consultants to site substations and transmission lines it would stand to reason that there is room for us to consider the expert opinions of third party independent consultants to advise council and staff on the Renewable Denton Plan.
Next Steps: An Appeal to Reason
The Renewable Denton Plan could very well prove to be a good plan just as it sits today… even a great plan. But is it the BEST plan we could implement in meeting our stated goals of increasing our renewable energy footprint to 100% by 2030 while providing safe, reliable power in a way that does not drive increased rates? I do not have the expertise to objectively verify whether or not DME’s recommendation is the best way forward. Nor do I believe that any – let alone a majority – of my fellow councilmembers have the expertise to effectively verify that DME’s recommendation is the best way forward. And the bottom line is that our citizens deserve every assurance that this plan is the right way to achieve our community’s diverse energy goals, desires, and needs. My sincere hope is that no matter what opinion an individual council member holds right now regarding the Renewable Denton Plan, that we can all find common ground and agree that the prudent thing for us to do in service of our constituents is to stop, take a breath, and collect more information. We need to hire one or more third party independent renewable energy consultants to 1) recommend a plan that meets council’s challenge to increase our renewable energy footprint up to 100% by 2030 while providing safe, reliable power in a way that does not drive increased rates; and to 2) critically review and recommend revisions to the current Renewable Denton Plan. These independent consultants should be selected by council and report their findings directly to council.
Council will discuss the Renewable Denton Plan once again and give staff further direction in a work session on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 5 (agenda here: http://legistar2.granicus.com/denton-tx/meetings/2016/1/1143_A_City_Council_16-01-05_Meeting_Agenda.pdf). I encourage you to reach out to me and to the rest of city council to let us know your questions, comments, ideas, or concerns regarding the Renewable Denton Plan. If you agree with me that we should be taking the time to have consultants review this plan before we take any deciding action I will just tell you that the time is right now to let that be know. It does make a difference when you reach out to city council.
Email the Denton City Council: http://www.cityofdenton.com/Home/Components/Form/Form/5f62983dfe4a4dc591679b039ff5924f/215