The Lone Star and the Sun

Can solar energy outshine oil in the heart of Texas?

By John McNeil.

A mountaineer named Jed Clampett was out one day shooting at some still-living food when something crude came bubbling up from the ground—crude oil, that is. Black gold.

The opening to the 1962 American TV sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies is just one example of how oil and the riches it brings have been at the center of the American Dream for more than a century.

Of course, it has been known for decades that, for environmental reasons, fossil fuels are not a sustainable part of any energy strategy, but, for economic reasons, the supply and demand for petroleum products continues to dictate the world economy. Nearly every nation has acknowledged the damage caused by burning hydrocarbon fuels, while simultaneously continuing to enact policies that perpetuate a dependence on them because of the lack of a competitive alternative. That may soon change.

Georgetown, Texas

Planning a shift toward renewable energy on a national level is daunting, but on a much smaller scale, individual cities have begun making the move—not because it was mandated by energy policies dictated at a broader level of government, but because they saw a business case for more affordable and more reliable energy.
Surprisingly, leading the pack is a small city in the heart of American oil country. Georgetown, Texas will begin running on 100 percent renewable energy this year. With a population of 54,000, the city will be powered approximately equally by wind and solar.

Georgetown has signed a contract with a company to provide it with more than 150 megawatts of solar power each year, enough to power 24,000 homes, starting next year and continuing until 2041. SunEdison, one of the largest renewable energy companies in the world, provided the investment, built the solar plants, and will bear the cost of maintaining them. The city then will buy the power SunEdison generates for the next 25 years under the largest power purchase agreement in the city’s history. It makes Georgetown one of the …

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