The City of Edmonton has set a 2030 deadline to power all its operations with renewable energy, and has turned to the Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas for advice on how to make the transition.
Edmonton “spends about C$35 million each year on the 300,000 megawatt-hours of power [it consumes], used for everything from keeping the lights on at city buildings to running the LRT,” CBC News reports. “That’s a huge energy demand that could spur new renewable energy development, such as a mid-size wind farm,” and Mayor Don Iveson is looking ahead to upcoming electricity contract negotiations as a moment to move in that direction.
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At a public forum earlier this week, Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross said it was “first and foremost a business decision” when his city of 70,000 people switched all its electricity consumption to solar and wind.
“It was just the right timing,” he explained. “We had a wind farm that needed a contract in order to get financing, and the same for a solar farm in west Texas. So by signing those contracts, the banks lent them the money to build both farms.”
While Edmonton is more than 10 times Georgetown’s size, and the Texas community owns the utility that powers all its homes, Ross said the two communities share common problems—like the difficulty of breaking long-term energy contracts.
“One of the things that hinder cities and municipalities from going 100% renewable energy is they have existing contracts with, say, maybe a coal plant, that go out 20 years,” he told the public forum. “We broke our contract, but we wrote a big cheque to get out of it, because we did the cost savings (analysis) over the terms of the contract. But that’s what a lot of cities can’t do right now, because they’re in these contracts and they’re not going to expire anytime soon.”
Edmonton’s power supply contract is negotiated in five-year increments, and it’s about to expire, CBC notes. But the city might miss the immediate deadline—in June, city councillors directed their energy transition team to take up to two years to conduct a “robust analysis” of how to procure more green energy.
“If that’s the approach we take, we’re still a few years away from being able to have 100% green electricity,” said energy transition program manager Mike Mellross.
While he was in Alberta, Ross attended the Pembina Institute’s Alberta Climate Summit  and brought some harsh words for “clean” coal to an interview with CBC Radio.
“In Georgetown, we make our decisions based on the facts,” he told  CBC’s The Homestretch program. “We put silly national partisan politics to the side, and we just do what’s good for the voters and citizens that put us into office.” And “in our situation, you can’t go wrong with renewable energy.”
Ross, a certified public accountant in his day job, said the fossil industry in Texas “doesn’t like any more competition, so they like to point out all of the deficiencies of wind and solar, and I like to point out all the deficiencies when it comes to fossil fuels.” While “I am not saying it’s going to work for every city,” he stated the two options carry comparable costs.
The advantage with long-term renewable energy contracts is that “we know, all the way through 2041, what we are going to pay for our electricity, which gives us cost certainty, which minimizes and mitigates volatility in the short-term market,” he added. “It also mitigates regulatory and governmental risk, because those knuckleheads in Washington, DC, they can screw up a good deal for you with over-regulating.”
Though Ross is a Republican in an arch-conservative state, and Donald Trump has been pushing hard to breathe life into a dying coal industry, the Georgetown mayor said he “couldn’t disagree with him more on environmental or energy policy. Coal has reached its peak, and we are at a tipping point with renewables. Coal is not going to be able to compete with wind and solar, price-wise.”
While Trump “says it’s clean coal, there is no such animal as clean coal,” he added. “If he would invite me to the White House, I could show him the art of the deal when it comes to energy.”