The City of Georgetown made a costly blunder, and residents are now paying for it.
City officials lost millions of taxpayer dollars after a failed gamble on green energy, and now Georgetown residents will pay higher electricity bills to help make up the losses.
The story began in 2012 when Mayor Dale Ross and city officials began transitioning the city’s entire power supply to solely renewable energy: they signed long-term contracts with wind and solar companies for set amounts of energy at a fixed-rate price, betting that the costs would be lower than if they used other energy sources.
The move to 100 percent renewables sparked national praise for the mayor, even earning him a spot in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Sequel” environmental movie. Gore called Georgetown a “trailblazer” when he visited the town in 2016.
The mayor said the decision was based on dollars and cents, one that would save the people of Georgetown money.
“This is a long-term pocketbook issue,” Ross said in August. “It’s a win for economics and a win for the environment.”
But now, just seven years later, the mayor and city officials are scrambling to renegotiate the contracts. They bought far too much energy at a far too expensive price.
City officials have watched renewable energy costs surge $26 million over what they projected; they have slews of excess energy on their hands and now have to resell it at a $7 million loss; and on top of that, they signed residents up for a fixed price that is now higher than the price of other energy sources.
“It’s costing them big time,” said Bill Peacock, vice president of research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “This doesn’t appear to be the first time they’ve lost money, just the first time it was big enough to have to go public with it.”
Peacock also said the city willingly walked into a terrible deal.
“They went all-in on one thing,” he said. “Anybody looking at this from a financial standpoint could have foreseen these problems. This doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”
City officials are now covering the losses by forcing residents to pay even higher electricity bills until September. The average Georgetown utility user will pay roughly $100 more over the next few months.
“Why did Georgetown buy so much extra electricity?” said Peacock. “It was because they wanted to be able to go and tell the world they were 100 percent renewable, and they needed enough to cover their cost at peak during the summer.”
Unsurprisingly, residents have been vocally upset over the new energy deal city officials have stuck them in. On the city’s Facebook announcement about the higher prices, numerous residents commented their disdain.
“Long story short… the city of Georgetown speculated the future of residents energy consumption and market prices of energy and lost on both,” said one citizen. “Now the residents have to pay.”
“Thanks for the succinct summary,” the city began its reply.
“So we have to pay more because electricity has gotten cheaper. In case anyone missed that,” said another resident.
The city replied that they signed contracts which force residents to pay a fixed price for energy, so even if the market price gets cheaper, folks in Georgetown still have to pay the higher locked-in price.
“When the contracts were executed, the City did not expect power prices to decline and remain low for years,” the city wrote.
“So, it’s obvious we need new city personnel that can look at a situation and understand the necessity to consider multiple outcomes,” replied another resident.
“Fair comment,” the city wrote.
On top of the financial disaster, Georgetown is being sued for withholding the pricing details of their energy contracts from the public. One resident wanted to know the cost-benefit analysis of the new energy deals, so he submitted a records request. The city refused to release the document.
In the wake of the failed green energy gamble, the mayor and city officials are currently trying to appeal for a different deal on the long-term contracts. Given the current situation, however, the energy companies have little reason to renegotiate.
In the meantime, Georgetown residents are stuck paying for the ill-advised bets of their elected officials.
But if residents contact their city officials and hold them accountable, they can make sure this same gamble isn’t renewed again.
Georgetown’s mayor and city council’s contact information is listed below:
To reach the mayor or any council member by phone, call 512-930-3651.
Mayor: Dale Ross
District 1 Council Member: Anna Eby
District 2 Council Member: Valerie Nicholson
District 3 Council Member: John Hesser
District 4 Council Member: Steve Fought
District 5 Council Member: Kevin Pitts
District 6 Council Member: Rachael Jonrowe
District 7 Council Member: Tommy Gonzalez