Thinking through the Renewable Denton Plan

When it comes to the discussion about the Renewable Denton Plan (RDP), I feel like someone opened up the Apollo mission to citizen involvement and we’re all sitting around looking at specs for rocket boosters as if we know what the f*** we’re doing.

Had the technical details of that plan been debated and voted on, it may very well have led to a disaster. Misunderstanding and suspicion on the part of the people might have led to political pressure to alter some things that shouldn’t be altered. Or imagine a democratic heart surgery, where citizens roll up their sleeves and get their hands in there right along with the surgeons. I bet that wouldn’t go well.

But we cannot cede all of our lives over to the experts. If we do that, then they determine the kind of world we live in. In the case of RDP, the values questions that are rightfully the place for democracy are all tangled up with the technical dimensions that are rightfully the place of experts. The end result is a jumble. Citizens speak about their values and they are quickly out of their depth in an ocean of technical details. The experts speak and are quickly met with quizzical looks and disbelief. I’ve tried to walk a path of understanding somewhere between blind trust and blind rejection.

In some sense, it’s ridiculous for those of us who care about this issue to be expected to say something intelligent about it. But in a larger sense, this is the stuff of citizenship in a high-tech age. Do we want the burden of thinking together? Shall we hope the invisible hand will sort it out? Or do we prefer the comfort of certainty that comes when we draw curtains over every window of a messy decision save one? It’s easy to look from only one perspective and pronounce with confidence. But is that right or wise?

 

A Conversation

Denton Municipal Electric (DME) was tasked with a maxi-maxi-min mission: Maximize renewables with maximum reliability and minimum rates. RDP is their conclusion. It was initially presented as the only option other than business as usual. Citizens pushed for other options and they have been presented but none with the considerable momentum of RDP.

Now, I wish the process had been different, but we need to work from where we are. We are in a trial of strength where the RDP is being subjected to a cross-examination. In principal this is healthy. We need to be sure that the trial is fair. That means on one hand a willingness to share information (to the extent legally permissible) and on the other hand a willingness to listen such that we do not put a straw man, rather than RDP, on trial.

So, what I want to do in an admittedly long post is to recapitulate this trial as I have heard it unfold in the form of a conversation. I am going to invent two personas – RDP and the Skeptic. I’ll do my best to put into their mouths the strongest arguments and the best questions that I have heard. I’ll start by giving RDP an opening statement.

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Opening Statement

RDP: DME is a risk-averse agency that holds reliability sacrosanct (hospitals are counting on electricity). They are also scrutinized for their rates and have to compete as a public utility on a deregulated market. And they want to be responsive to citizen demands for more renewables. Denton is at 40% (the US average is 13%) but that ain’t good enough for little d.

Given risk aversion and rate consciousness, DME is primarily worried about a couple of things that might be rare in the grand scheme of things but that are so impactful they change the entire equation. One of these things are those black swan events (maybe four times in the last five years) where there is a huge spike in the price of electricity driven by a heat wave, a frozen pipeline, or a plant outage. These things can last several days and can drive prices over 100x above usual levels. These rare events (0.1%) can drive 10-20% of costs.

The other event is more frequent and steady and that is: Texas summer – peak usage days in July and August. At those times too, prices go up. So, whether it is a typical hot summer day or a rare event, the market can swing way up. Given that it is imperative to deliver electricity, DME has to buy it.

This is why DME wants to own a generation facility. It shields them from market volatility. And, yes, it could help pay off some debts. But there is another reason: it gives them the confidence to jump to 70% renewables. Wind and solar are intermittent sources that may or may not show up on any given day. Indeed, day-ahead forecasts for wind can be wildly wrong. If our renewables don’t show up when we expect them and we don’t have our own way to generate back up electricity, then we are at the mercy of the market.

The market for buying renewables has shifted since 2006 when we bought our current wind contract. Now, it is best to simply buy the wind or solar generated by a provider rather than buying that plus some back up package to cover you when the wind and sun are not active. With the plants we provide our own back-up, making it much more affordable and less risky. The main value of the plants is that they leverage the ability to buy all of these renewables in a way that actually reduces rates. They are an insurance policy that allows us to put more chits down on renewables.

The net emissions reductions, including greenhouse gasses, of the plan are not just from the construction of two or three new wind farms and two or three new solar farms. They are also from the gas plants displacing dirtier sources on the market. The plan takes two kinds of bold steps from a climate and environment perspective. It invests in renewables, which is like trading in an old clunker for a zero emissions electric car. And it invests in more efficient (not the MOST efficient, but more efficient than market average) fossil fuel generation, which is like turning in your other old clunker for a more fuel-efficient car.

This plan allows us to cut costs, keep reliability as high as ever, divest from the Gibbons Creek coal plant, invest in 30% more renewables, slash our emissions by 75%, and position us to step incrementally into more renewables to be at 100% by 2030.

 

Cross-Examination

Skeptic: If the two proposed RICE (reciprocating internal combustion engine) gas plants are about backing up Denton’s needs, why is it that DME plans to sell 69% of the electricity generated from these plants to the ERCOT market? Isn’t it possible, for example, to just build one power plant (not the two proposed)? That would reduce our electricity generation by 50% but, 69% was going to ERCOT anyway so that would still allow us to cover our needs plus another 19% to ERCOT and we’d get all the emissions savings. We’d make less revenue from sales, sure, but also capital costs would be lower as we’d just build the one plant.

RDP: During peak days in summer, we may very well be using both of those power plants at full blast for ten hours per day to cover our own needs (at lower costs than market prices). If we only build one plant, then during peak times, we’ll rely on the market more, which means both higher prices and higher net emissions, because the market average is much dirtier than the proposed plants. During non-peak times we’ll be able to meet our own needs with more renewables and a smaller slice of the plants. Yet given that the plants will out compete much of what is on the market, ERCOT will tap us during those times to also run the plants, thus generating electricity for sale on the market.

Skeptic: So, we don’t really “own” these plants…because we cannot shield them from ERCOT and they can turn them on whenever we show up in their stack. And it is not quite right to say that it is an insurance policy and the ideal is to never run the power plants – the ideal is to run them at whatever level is profitable.

RDP: That’s true. If we are going to build the plants it only makes sense to operate them when they are profitable rather than letting them sit idle. Of course, we can only operate them about 37% of the time across any given year, due to the air permit requirements.

Skeptic: You claim that these plants would not increase gas usage or fracking. You then claim that it will take 58 gas wells to fuel the plants. Isn’t this contradictory nonsense?

RDP: It is counter-intuitive to be sure, but it is true. You would expect new gas plants to increase gas usage. But consider that the supply of energy being fed onto the ERCOT grid at any given time is in response to demand on the grid at that time. When Texans start using their air conditioners, generating plants respond by producing energy. It doesn’t work the other way around. It’s not as though you check to see how much electricity is available on the grid before you use your air conditioner.

So if these plants were to turn on, they would be producing energy that would have been produced anyway by another gas plant (or perhaps some coal). And since these plants will use gas more efficiently than the majority of plants in ERCOT, we can say that they will not increase gas usage or fracking. Whatever amount of fuel we would use would have been used by another plant for the same purpose.

Skeptic: But we know that electricity consumption is going to increase in Texas and the Gibbons Creek plant will continue to run even if we divest from it. Won’t we just be adding more pollution on top of the existing pollution?

RDP: Imagine someone builds a new gasoline station. If a driver fills up at that station, they will not also fill up at another station, because their tank is already full. To claim that this will add net pollution is to claim that somehow building these plants will cause a rise in electricity consumption. But demand for electricity is driven by other factors (our consumptive lifestyle and economic system).

It’s not the case that BECAUSE OF the new gas station, someone is going to drive around more and use more gas. Similarly, there will be no increased consumption of electricity just because these plants are built. That means that whatever electricity these plants produce is electricity other plants are not producing (and these proposed plants will never displace solar or wind, which are always dispatched first because there is no fuel cost). Whatever emissions they produce are emissions that won’t come from some other, less efficient plants. And yes, Gibbons Creek will continue to operate, but our divestment from that plant opens the chance for someone else to buy into it and shutter older, dirtier lignite plants.

Skeptic: You have also claimed that this plan will reduce natural gas consumption by 37%. What is the basis of that claim?

RDP: More information on this should be on the website soon. What this means is that Denton will actually use 12 fewer gas wells to meet its electricity needs. That’s 12 wells that won’t be fracked that otherwise will be if we continue with business as usual.

Skeptic: The plan does not factor into account all the real emissions associated with fracking – at well site, transmission leaks, processing, etc. Right?

RDP: True, but no one accounts for those emissions. So, when we are making comparisons of emissions between, say, the plan and our current mix, you’d have to factor those unaccounted emissions into both sides of the equation. When you do that, you don’t change the percentage difference between the two scenarios.

Skeptic: DME keeps shifting the numbers. They said it would be a net emissions reduction of 75% but then they said 15%…so this is all Jell-O and smoke and mirrors, right?

RDP: The plan represents a 75% reduction in the emissions coming from generation to meet Denton’s electricity demand. The 15% number is the emissions reductions the plan would bring if we also factor in the electricity the proposed RICE plants will generate for sales on the ERCOT market.

Skeptic: Then isn’t it disingenuous to use the 75% figure?

RDP: No. In fact, the 15% figure is meaningless. It is double-counting emissions. The emissions from our sales to ERCOT would be to service the demand of some other city – they would have to calculate that into their portfolio. That’s like saying we don’t count our share of market emissions in our portfolio. We have to count those, because they are from our demand. So, those other cities need to count the ERCOT sales emissions, not us.

Skeptic: That’s all good for emissions as they add up on paper and perhaps as they add up in the atmosphere writ large. But the actual emissions will be in Denton, correct?

RDP: Yes, this does introduce two new emissions sources into our air shed. TCEQ has already permitted them, considering them to be “minor” sources. Further, some, maybe most, of the electricity generated by these plants will displace generation from dirtier plants downwind of us, which would help offset some of the negative local air quality impacts. Keep in mind too that a business could get permits to emit similar levels of emissions without any public debate and we could not stop them because local government is preempted on air quality issues.

Skeptic: Denton already has F-rated air. It seems foolish and reckless to introduce yet another source of emissions. Have you done a systematic air quality modeling study or health impact study?

RDP: We have not yet done that but hope to do so soon, utilizing independent expertise.

Skeptic: You should do that. And beware of the assumptions in the models, especially about run times for the plants and regulatory enforcement. And while we are on the subject of independent expertise….have you had a consultant review the plan and propose other alternatives?

RDP: We have used some consultants on pieces of the plan, for example, on air permitting. We have not had a 3rd party examine the plan in whole or had a 3rd party financial analyst look at it.

Skeptic: But this is a $225 or $250 million investment in a very rapidly changing market, and DME uses consultants frequently. Isn’t it right to have a second opinion on the figures?

RDP: Consultants are best used when we lack in-house expertise. When it comes to financial analyses of the energy sector, DME has a wealth of experience.

Skeptic: But isn’t almost all that experience from working on fossil fuel energy issues? Might this not introduce a bias that could color their calculations – after all, we are dealing with projections and that requires making various assumptions and interpretations.

RDP: That’s one way to look at it. But the other way to look at it is that for the past nine years the DME staff have been running one of the state’s and even the nation’s leading utilities when it comes to renewables. Second opinions can be good, but they can also be political stall tactics and if another agency comes back with different figures, we’d be in a dueling expert dilemma. Clearly, we don’t want to make a hasty decision. But there is no possible way to turn over every stone (do you study every cereal box in the grocery store?) and we risk paralysis by analysis, which would be a de-facto choice for status quo, which is the worse option all around.

Skeptic: Do you understand that the cost of solar is still declining rapidly?

RDP: Yes, which is why we are not buying more now. The plan is to cover all of Denton’s increased demand with more solar purchases.

Skeptic: The real dilemma here is batteries. Their cost is also plummeting quickly. We may well be at the cusp of an energy revolution that could get us to a genuine 100% renewable scenario. What I mean by that is not a Georgetown scenario, where they still need fossil fuels to cover them when the wind and sun are not available. I mean a scenario where we purchase only wind and solar and store electricity they generate in batteries that we draw down when needed.

RDP: It does look like batteries are the wave of the future but we are not there yet. DME estimates costs would be 3x higher to us batteries instead of the RICE plants. Most big batteries now are for ancillary services only. It is not a time-tested technology. DME thinks that by 2030 batteries will begin chewing into the natural gas quick start market, covering the kind of peak power needs they currently serve. This plan is a bridge to that point.

Skeptic: The Citigroup analysis that DME cited did not say batteries will start hitting the market in 2030, it says the battery market will already be 240GW and $4 billion by 2030. And, even if we say 2030 is the start of this massive transition, why do we only need an eleven year bridge (assuming this plan goes into effect in 2019)? Why would we saddle ourselves with an investment that we’ll want to be running for at least twenty years (and likely forty or fifty) when the replacement technology is only eleven years away? We risk becoming the last buggy whip manufacturers at the dawn of the automobile. This could be another stranded asset or a carbon lock-in that traps us in the natural gas generation game (to pay off the investment) when we could be in the battery game. Could we leapfrog from coal right over the supposed bridge of quick start plants to land on the lily pad of the battery age?

RDP: Sure, building the gas plants entails risks. But so does not building them. If battery storage is further away than you hope, then we have to hobble along either with business as usual or one of the other plans that don’t entail the gas plants, all of which are either more expensive or more polluting or both.

Skeptic: Not necessarily. Have you considered a strategy where you purchase an older gas plant at a much lower price to serve as your insurance policy for back-up purposes? Yes, this would be dirtier, but we could ditch it much more quickly than plants we build on our own. The idea is that we could start buying renewables more incrementally (not jumping to 70% right away) with this as an insurance policy and with the extra capital cost we don’t spend up front, we can start to invest in battery technology. We’d buy smaller scale now so that we can take advantage of falling prices and improving technologies and buy more as we go along. Could we bootstrap our way to a genuine 100% renewable portfolio maybe even by 2030 without needing to invest in the gas plants?

RDP: That would take more analysis, but on the surface it would likely be costlier if only because depending on the plant you buy you might face more exposure to the market and remember there are those expensive summer days and those rare times where prices are 100x or more of the average. And you would have more emissions at least in the short term…and the short term could be longer if the battery market doesn’t go the way you hope.

Skeptic: Why do you think that the gas plants will have value even after 2030, the time when you acknowledge batteries will be displacing quick start plants like this one?

RDP: Things move slowly in the power generation business – just look at us in 2016 using plants that were built in the 1980s. The carbon lock-in you mention is real. So, there will be early adopters but there will be plenty of quick start plants running well past 2030 due to sunken investments and we’ll still be competitive in that market.

Skeptic: But, again, if these are a bridge to a 100% renewable 2030…if those are our values, then why be in the fossil fuel generation game at that point? Why not shutter them at 2030 with a big banner saying “mission accomplished”?

RDP: The gas plants will likely still be profitable. And Denton may well be at 100% renewables by then, but perhaps without batteries, which would mean fossil fuels would still be needed as back up as with Georgetown.

Skeptic: Unless, of course, we start getting into the battery game earlier.

RDP: Sure, but that brings lots of uncertainties.

Skeptic: Uncertainties are par for the course. But tell me about the 100% option…why not just do that right now like Georgetown does?

RDP: DME will do whatever Council directs them to do. The problem with this is cost – it will run our top 20 consumers an extra $35,000 per month and probably over $200 a year more for residential customers – for many that is a real hardship.

Skeptic: What about the 83% renewable option?

RDP: That also avoids the gas plants but it too is costly with an extra $25,000 per month cost for those big consumers. Rate increases like that create very real risks of hurting jobs and economic growth prospects. And without their own generation back up, DME is going to feel less bullish about buying even more renewables to get us up to 100%.

Skeptic: Why not get into leasing for rooftop solar?

RDP: We can look into that, but DME ran the numbers and they found that covering every roof in Denton with solar panels would cost $720 million and still leave us in need of back up generation.

Skeptic: What about demand-side management? Can we avoid the gas plants by simply reducing our consumption?

RDP: Demand-side management is crucial and DME has several programs to help with that. The trouble is that very few people take advantage of them and they make very marginal changes to our overall load. We are not likely to conserve our way out of this dilemma.

Skeptic: Well, have you notified people who will live near these gas plants? And have you considered down-wind emissions from them for our neighbors to the north?

 

 

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43 thoughts on “Thinking through the Renewable Denton Plan

  1. Why not just say Sharon instead of Skeptic. You pretty much used my whole blog post. But, instead of being a real skeptic, all you did is vomit onto the page all of DME’s talking points. Try to channel Briggs, Wazny and Watts when you want to pretend to be a skeptic. They ask some great questions.

    Dear god! I feel like I’m in the FFD campaign all over again with that constant, unending struggle.

    Here is a fact: Climate scientists in Paris said that we will not stay below the 2 deg C goal by building natural gas power plants.

  2. Is this the same man who fiercely complained about the paternalism coming out of city hall and our city leaders when we were fighting for stronger gas well ordinances? Can you not see you are advocating for the same thing with the current DME plan?
    Watts, Briggs and Wazny have been privy too many closed session regarding this subject and they continue to ask hard questions and remain seemingly skeptical about this so called “renewable” plan.
    This is sounds like a spoon fed response from DME and those on the council who will follow rely on the “experts” instead of asking the hard questions and advocating for the best interest and wishes of their constituents.
    I still have PTSD from this “unending struggle” as it related to FFD and the gas well ordinances.
    This is the wrong plan for the wrong time but I am sure the DME will juggle the numbers until it seems more feasible.
    I am with Sharon. If it looks like vomit and it smells like vomit then probably is just some regurgitated mess.

  3. Thank you for your effort to reveal the issues from both sides. Definitely a dance that will invite severe criticism from those who are already certain of their position, but for those of us who are still trying to get all the issues, I find this incredibly helpful. Taking on the voice of the RDP does not make you an advocate, it makes you an analyst, and maybe the problem is that the real life “skeptics” have failed to deliver an argument that people who are interested in understanding before advocating, can get behind. Or maybe you just don’t get it Adam, what with your lack of intelligence… 😄 but thanks for sticking your neck out, and contributing meaningfully to the debate.
    I also appreciate the hard questions coming from members of the council… Without these we would not have gotten this far!

  4. Adam, my fundamental problem with DME’s plan is the way important facts slowly trickle out. You mentioned the 15% actual reduction in emissions v the “70% reduction” showboated in the original open house presentations. And you mentioned that actually 69% of the electricity from the gas generators will go into the state power grid rather than to Denton residents.

    Those two points are HUGE considerations that (I believe) DME knew about very early on yet released to the public only after pressure from Councilmembers Wazny and Briggs.

    Taken together, these two vital pieces of new information paint a portrait of what actually turns out to be primarily a state power generator dumping MORE emissions (however small) on F-rated Denton County.

    No one should believe that overall power consumption anywhere will remain static (or that building gas generators reduces overall emissions).

    Playing the portfolio card is literally a smoke screen.

    I sincerely appreciate that you are keeping the conversation going. But one thing remains crystal clear to me – the need for a second opinion, and now.

  5. Ken – thanks for the comments. I think getting some other eyes on this would be a good thing too…I am especially adamant about an air quality study.

  6. Thanks for all the effort you put into this. You obviously invested a lot of time and consideration into the facts; delivering them in an unbiased and clear format.

    I’ve noticed that many of the anti-RDP folks are high on rhetoric and name calling (eg: Elida, Sharon, etc.), but low on facts an substantive dialog. Instead of devolving into religious zealotry, I would love to see them present better arguments (and facts) than what Adam has provided … assuming such points exist. Adam appears to have covered all of the major bases.

    BTW – if the facts don’t align with your ideology, perhaps it’s time to reexamine your beliefs. It’s possible that you’re really just a religious zealot with no regard for the truth, but you’re masquerading as an environmentalist; much to the detriment of people who actually care about the environment.

  7. I will be honest — I really know nothing about this issue. I don’t live in Denton, so I don’t always know the details of what’s happening politically. But I work in Denton and my kids go to school in Denton and I spend most of my money in Denton. Environmental issues are important to me. That all being said, I really appreciate how you lay out different perspectives on the matter.

    I hate that you are being attacked here. Unfortunately, some people will get angry if you don’t parrot their thoughts. The sad thing is that it pits us all against each other, instead of working together from a stronger position. I’ve been in your shoes. Hang tough and don’t let them get to you. All that does is silence much needed voices.

  8. The arguments against an outside consultant are particularly weak. Some of those phrases sound similar to what one City Council member has repeated several times. This is not a delaying tactic. If the City had asked for outside input at the beginning, we would be much further down the path. Instead, the citizens of Denton are asking for outside expertise at this late date, because we were not brought into the process sooner. “Paralysis by analysis” is not valid reasoning in this case. At this point, we only have analysis by one entity, which is in-house. The reluctance to have this plan independently verified as the best possible way to go forward is actually extremely perplexing.

  9. Dan – good points. I agree that that argument is not very strong. It might be helpful if people specified exactly what the consultant would do and review – the whole plan starting from scratch? certain elements – which ones? Maybe that would help refine and strengthen the ask…but I dunno.

  10. Seems to me that the outside consultant is the last straw that the zealots have to grasp at. All of the other arguments have been effectively refuted, false information has been labeled as such, etc. Read the Austin report, it says Austin should build a gas plant and they should consider reciprocating engines to support more renewable integration (the same technology that DME has proposed from the beginning, but they don’t know what they are doing and can’t be trusted -psarcasm-).

    The “independent” outside consultant idea was a delay tactic when it was used in Austin and it is very much a delay tactic now. It is easy for me to see, and Council should be ashamed of playing politics with this issue.
    This outside study would likely require 4-6 months knowing how slow the city works. That is if there are no issues with it, and some will surely crop up if council is the body directing such a highly technical study.

    Thanks for your very well written blog. And thanks for your open mind, it is very much appreciated by the silent majority.

  11. The facts most needed are not in the realm of the “experts” Denton is relying on for this. DME does not have a renewable energy expert on its team (gee, I wonder why…..Texas) and this, along with glaring questions about the expenditure of more than a quarter billion $$ of taxpayer funds for what are questionable numbers by DME, is why the services of an independent analyst and consultants are sorely needed. One item missing in your mock-dialogue was the revelation by DME just this week that the plants are intended to run well past 2030 when Denton only needs a back-up plan for 11 years. Another item missing is that the fiscally-minded are calling for a complete analysis of the numbers partly because RDP was not adJusted *at all* once the 4th charge of “100% renewable by 2030” was added by Council to the earlier three charges of “renewable/reliable/rates” The financial models DME has been using are in need of independent review. Like Denton, the city of Seattle, WA is divesting from coal and Seattle has a municipal utility (Seattle City Lights). Seattle’s city government and its municipal utility are working with the Stockholm Environmental Institute to come up with a solution that does not involve greenwashing and carbon lock-in, while controlling short-term and long-term expenditures and investments. Denton should follow a similar path.

  12. PS. Dividing your dialogue into “experts” and “skeptics” demeans the wealth of knowledge Denton citizens are bringing to the table. Denton items are smart shoppers and they want a 2nd opinion. The Renewable Denton Plan, having failed to blind us with its brilliance, now attempts through efforts like this to baffle us with its bs.

  13. Adam, this was a thoughtful effort on your part, however lacking in citations. Respectfully, this isn’t a 2-sided issue. It’s a dodecahedron and you presented it in binary. There are other options besides “for” or “against.” I encourage everyone to read the TCEQ applications for these plants that were approved back in August and October. I think you’ll get a clearer picture of the other facets of this proposal. The Denton Energy Center, for example, is scheduled to start 350 times per year. That’s not a part-time gig.

    That doesn’t even begin to address the ROI or debt terms on these plants (or the Bryan plant for that matter) which are both mysteries wrapped in an enigma at this point. Interestingly, as a shareholder/owner, I can pull up TXU or CoServ’s financials in a few minutes. But this “competitive” publicly-owned utility? Good luck sifting through the budget summary and piecing it all together.

    I guess you could call this skeptical. I call it “fiduciary duty.” DME is in a public trust relationship with its ratepayers, so they are rightfully being held to the high standard that is appropriate for such an entity. It’s their privilege to comply with the very basic requests their owners make. If people within the City of Denton or DME view the task before them as anything but a privilege, then they are probably in the wrong line of work.

  14. Thinking about this further, what will an independent consultant provide to Denton? Best case scenario, a 6 month delay that costs tens of millions of dollars because the interest rate will be increased again at least once during that time, probably twice. Worst case scenario, more confusion and a decision to stay with status quo. There is nothing to gain here and everything to lose, and the ones pushing for this know it.

    I have a few questions for Council if they are paying attention:

    1. Why are the zealots getting so much of your time? There are perhaps 40 people out of 125,000 in this city who do not like this plan. They will never be satisfied, they have no solutions and they only want to spew data from the Paris summit. There are perhaps another 40 people who are confused because the 40 who do not like the plan have been putting out misinformation to the public. Real, regular people and businesses who support this plan far outnumber these people who are unwilling to compromise.

    2. Why are the most inexperienced members of Council driving this decision? The two members asking for the outside consultant are the extremists in the group. One is against government while being a member of it and the other is trying to govern on ideology instead of what is actually technologically feasible. Why don’t the members of council who actually know the difference between a MW and a MWh stop this nonsense and lead this city?

    3. Why make such a huge decision a political issue? Does council believe that playing with citizen’s money is the right thing to do here? It stands to reason that these two council members really are using delay tactics to kill this project. They want to delay this past the election in May so that they can try to put another extremist or two on council to help with their agendas.

    4. Why not do the right thing and vote? Even if the “independent” consultant agrees completely with DME, which is highly unlikely if unqualified, extremist council members are the ones leading a highly technical study like that, they will still vote against the plan, because that is their agenda. Practical members of Council, do something!!!

    DME has proposed something truly incredible here, no other utility has proposed such an innovative way to take the next bold step toward 100% renewable. It will truly be a shame to let anti-natural gas zealots and political extremists keep Denton at status quo, which means remaining at 40% with coal as part of the mix.

  15. What’s funny is that Wazny has suggested that the city sell DME. If that were the case, they could just do what they want like any other utility. They wouldn’t need public input, hearings, etc. She doesn’t care one bit about the environment. She just hates government (while serving in it) and wants it to be smaller, even if it’s to the detriment of the citizens.

    This kind of issue is very technical and complex. There is little benefit to the general public weighing in with their uniformed opinions (myself included). I have faith in the subject matter experts in DME and in the competency of our City Council, who have looked into this matter exhaustively.

    This is a hugely innovative program; one that almost no other utility in the country is attempting. Even the 40% renewable that we are currently at is ground-breaking in and of itself. The industry average for renewable usage is in the single-digits.

    We should applaud DMEs efforts in this area and support them as they continue to increase our renewable energy supply. The status quo is substantially worse for the environment and allowing a few uninformed, uncompromising (but highly opinionated) zealots to sway issues of such significance is unacceptable.

  16. Adam; I believe you offer valuable input here. What troubles me most here, are not emissions or even long term commitments to renewables, but DME’s grand expectation that the council and citizens will buy into the RDP after nothing more than Power Point slides without reliable backup financial information. How is it even possible to add another $250M to DME debt load and expect rates to trend DOWNWARD in 2017 (2 years before “peakers” go online) while if we DON’T spend the money , our rates go UP labeling it as “business as usual”. Admittedly, I’ve never examined an ERCOT purchase power agreement, but on what planet is this scenario possible? Is there any relationship between DME debt to actual electric rates or are Denton taxpayers simply getting hosed by ERCOT as useful idiots to fund their long term plans. Complicating this is city attorneys dedication to the “Competive” exception to open meetings for public power providers meaning we have to trust council to ask all the right questions in closed session.
    Earlier I also thought bringing in an energy analyst to review and discuss options made alot of sense.But now I feel a private investigator might be more appropriate to help us figure out what in hell is going on here between DME and ERCOT because it damn sure isn’t Phil Williams sincere love of renewables driving this RDP runaway train.
    In summary: WTF is REALLY going on with this RDP??

  17. Well stated David. Why would the citizens want to pay stranded costs associated with selling a utility? Why would the citizens want a private utility here telling them what they will get? Would they like to be 15% renewable instead? (Oh sure they have those same “100% renewable on paper” programs too.

    The opponents of the plan should not be allowed to lead a study of it, plain and simple.

  18. At the very least, contact should be made with Corinne Grand at Seattle City Lights to find out, from the Utility’s point of view, what exactly Stockholm Environmental Institute Seattle is doing for them. Also, lest there be any confusion, those of us advocating against the quick start power plants are also advocating that the financials be looked at thoroughly and with questions asked about stranded assets, short-term v. long-term returns on investment, debt, all of this. Removing the “greenwash” from this Plan is not contradictory to good financial stewardship. That is in fact the whole point of the citizen outcry and demand for analysis. We neither want to be robbed nor poisoned. And the time frame we are talking about here (the 11 years between 2019-2030) is when energy investment will change 180 degrees. The main thrust of COP21 in Paris was capital investment worldwide in green energy research, infrastructure, and deliverables. This is the exactly wrong time to be building 2 quick start gas plants in Denton.

  19. At the very least, contact should be made with Corinne Grand at Seattle City Lights to find out, from the Utility’s point of view, what exactly Stockholm Environmental Institute Seattle is doing for them (Seattle has a municipal utility—Seattle City Lights, which is divesting from coal, sound familiar?) Also, lest there be any confusion, those of us advocating against the quick start power plants are also advocating that the financials be looked at thoroughly and with questions asked about stranded assets, short-term v. long-term returns on investment, debt, all of this. Removing the “greenwash” from this Plan is not contradictory to sound financial stewardship. That is in fact the whole point of the citizen outcry and demand for analysis. There is a coalition across the spectrum that agrees on quality of life and fiscal conservatism: we neither want to be robbed nor poisoned. And the time frame we are talking about here (the 11 years between 2019-2030) is when energy investment will change 180 degrees. The main thrust of COP21 in Paris was capital investment worldwide in green energy research, infrastructure, and deliverables. This is the exactly wrong time to be building 2 quick start, methane-emitting gas plants in Denton.

  20. This is all just empty talk and misinformation.

    Methane emissions from these types of plants are very small. You’re talking about fracking again.

    I wish the zealots would come down off of their tiny fictional plateau and join the rest of us that are concerned about the environment on the very difficult hike up the real mountain.

    There is probably no hope for the anti-government faction.

    I’m just hoping the rest of Council realizes both of these things. This may be the last opportunity we have for a long time to do something this significant.

    I’ve watched a group of people shout down and even harass anyone who disagrees with them for quite some time, watched lies and misinformation and fear mongering come out and slowly be exposed. It has gotten tiresome.

    For the record, I was in favor of the fracking ban, and I support more protections for groundwater. Where I personally draw the line is extending that fight to natural gas as a fuel. And I think most of the anti-fracking group has realized that. I wish it was possible to truly be 100% renewable without some fossil fuels.

    What DME is proposing to do is the best they can do, which is replace base load fossil generation and market energy with a large amount of variable renewables and much cleaner backup fossil generation that can start and stop very fast. All this at a time when the cost of investment is near its lowest.

    They should be applauded, not delayed.

  21. Adam, thank you for your continued engagement in an important issue. For the record I would like to post my position (linked below). This position is based on the current information I am privy to as a council member and the ongoing input that I receive from the citizens that I have been elected to represent in district 2 (the number is more than 40 by the way, and I assure you there are many people that are not speaking up as loudly as others may be right now in online forums). People rightfully have questions and concerns with any plan that involves this much investment and has this long of an impact. Citizen concerns are both financial and environmental in nature. I think pushing back and asking hard questions is an important part of the process. In my short time on council I have learned that the dedicated staff at DME are sometimes able to find a better alternative when pushed. For example, if a couple of us on council had not pushed back on DME’s plan to level the Hillside neighborhood near UNT in order to site a substation an entire neighborhood would have been displaced. A community would have been destroyed. As it turns out, through the process of having push back on their expert plans, DME discovered better technology and siting options that were both affordable and less disruptive to our citizens. Nobody is perfect and certainly no organization is without its blind spots and weaknesses. Plans should be scrutinized. I am sure that you can appreciate the value of academic studies and publications going through the process of peer review – the benefits of third party analysis are not so different here.

    If anyone is interested you can read my position and recommendations here: http://briggsfordenton.org/2016/01/03/engage-d2-1316-an-appeal-to-reason-for-renewable-denton/

  22. With all due respect, siting a transmission line could theoretically have limitless possibilities. There are only so many generation options, particularly when you need To back up a lot of renewables.
    A study will not discover new technology, it is a delay tactic that will only have the detrimental effects listed above.

  23. Tom – Just to be clear the situation with the Hillside neighborhood was not a transmission line. It was a substation. And we had been told that there was absolutely no other viable option. That all alternatives had been explored and ruled out by DME. DME’s recommendation to council was to go forward and take down the neighborhood. They stood by that until a completely different technology solution was brought to light – by a citizen who happened to be an engineer – which then opened up alternative sites. I do not distrust DME. I want assurances of the plan. Willing to give my support if RDP holds up as the best way forward for reliable energy, affordable energy, increased renewables, and sets the stage for us to continue to move toward 100% renewable by 2030 which is a very recently stated goal by fellow city councilors.

  24. Substation could also be sited almost anywhere.

    I’m wondering what is wrong with the Austin study? I guessing there will be some reasons. Reality is that, from how I understand it, the study was done for the same reasons. What is the best way to back a lot of renewables? The answer came back a gas plant just like everyone knew it would. It also recommended that Austin consider the technology that DME had already proposed. The study has already been done.

    A little time spent on Google will also reveal several engineering studies that say natural gas is required for integration of more renewables.

  25. Councilwoman Briggs,

    I appreciate the dialogue and I apologize if I was short with you.

    I don’t think I have anything else to add other than I urge you and the other council members to vote on this item. If you are uncomfortable with it then vote no. If a majority votes no, then the process starts over and status quo until something else comes along.

    The only thing out f the ordinary that DME has proposed is the percentage of renewables. It is extremely high at 70% and Denton should be proud. The gas plants are the newest and cleanest available and are certainly not an out of the ordinary suggestion. Similar to most climate scientists saying climate change is happening, most engineers will tell you that this type of gas generation is required to integrate a lot of renewables. This issue is too important to be delayed any further.

  26. Tom – likewise, thank you for the dialogue. Democracy benefits from civil discussion and putting competing views up for debate.

    Thank you for mentioning Austin. I have ongoing discussions with peers on Austin city council. What I know about their report is that it has yet to be presented to council, showed scenarios where wind was just as affordable an alternative, that it recommended a combined cycle plant (which is not the same technology as the peaker plants DME is seeking approval of), and that the City of Austin has now issued an RFI on energy storage.

    This council doesn’t need me on board to take an item to a vote – not by a long shot. That has been proven. If the votes were there and the RDP was a slam dunk we would have already voted. Councilors are taking the time to continue to ask questions and request additional information. I respect the process and the continued consideration being given to the matter.

    Thanks to you Tom and to all on this thread who choose to be engaged and insist on being a part of the process. This is your government.

  27. To be fair, the Austin report, which is available online, selected a combined cycle plant as the top option of those presented for consideration, including wind. Wind is an option for Austin because they already have other gas generation. It also suggested that Austin look at reciprocating engines for more flexibility in backing renewables. It did suggest that Austin look at storage, which is probably why the RFI is out. It is generally accepted that storage is the answer in the future, which is probably why that is an RFI, I’ll try to find the time to look at it.

    I do agree with DME here that we should act now rather than hope storage shows up soon. Thanks again.

  28. Tom, why are you in such a hurry when it is clear that by taking time we will get a better result, possibly without building two methane producing gas plants, expensive to build, possibly stranded or, worse, running all the time for ERCOT (even past 2030!). RDP has not been adjusted yet to account for 100% renewables in 2030. That needs to happen. Council is doing the outreach it should and the last thing we need is pushing this item to a hasty vote when so much money and so many health and safety issues are at stake. We are talking about a quarter of a billion dollars here not counting extensive operating costs and an area that already has an F rating on air quality. The money can be better spent and the plan needs to be checked and cross-checked.

  29. A second opinion. What’s so scary? The Denton City Council loves consultants: they budget tens of thousands for hiring some. Can there be a better target than a $225 million project that’s probably now more like $300+ million? The jump in price alone says volumes. Add in the “new” facts I mentioned above. Those who wail (crocodile tears) that this is just a delaying tactic are in a way absolutely correct. We need more and better information. That takes time and effort to get.

  30. All – thank you for the very valuable conversation on this thread…sorry it took a while for me to read through it, but I needed a little break from this after the attacks. It seems to me that the call for an independent audit or consultant is perhaps the biggest concern on the part of those who are ‘skeptical,’ which makes sense given that is right in the wheelhouse for a skeptic! I like many of these comments – especially Sara on the dodecahedron 🙂

  31. Adam – one of my biggest concerns is the stonewall front from DME and those on Council regarding independent experts looking into this plan. If that’s skeptical, so be it. Actually their defiance to have others evaluate the plan places me more in the realm of suspicious. In response to your earlier question: the entire plan, the financial projections, usage, and so on needs to be analyzed. Other options need to be evaluated.

    Anticipating the responses to come: a responsible city government would have reached out for consultants/analysts from the beginning. If they had, then people wouldn’t be accused of using this argument for outside expertise as a delaying tactic. That city government did not consider this from the start and hoped to push the plan through as quickly as possible…well, color me a skeptic or suspicious if need be. I really think there is no need for terms such as “skeptic” and “zealot” in this conversation. Even though two city council members can’t seem to refrain from slapping denigrating labels on the people of Denton, I don’t see why we should follow their lead.

  32. Jennifer,

    Again, these plants do not emit methane, they burn it. Efficiently. To emit it would be the same as emitting money.

    This is one of the reasons that the city needs to move forward. Misinformation and fear mongering. Another good reason to me for the other folks asking is that an extremely similar study has already been performed and it agrees with what DME is trying to do. Other reasons: interest rates will most likely go up again in a few months, there is no significant upside, only added costs and perhaps more confusion, it is a delay tactic plain and simple.

    Lastly, what more do you expect the council to do other than state a goal of being 100% renewable by 2030? Do you expect them to announce exactly how and when they will implement technology that doesn’t exist yet? I don’t get it, and I can only assume that this is another delay tactic to stall this plan because it uses natural gas.
    Why not compromise and accept a really aggressive plan that takes a huge step toward 100% instead of demanding perfection and keeping us at status quo?
    Why not work with DME to implement a storage plan after approving this bold step? This is how things get done.

    And again, I have no response to the anti-government folks, conspiracy theorists or those with axes to grind.

  33. “Conspiracy theorists”? “Anti-government”? You forgot “fundamentalists” and “anarchists,” and the rest of the name-calling. We are talking about a quarter to a half billion dollars here in expenditure, operating costs, debt, etc. There are too many unanswered questions not to hire outside analysis and consulting, from the shifting ground on what these plants will cost, the city’s debt., the emissions (yes, there are methane emissions), how often they will be used, whether they will continue to be in use after 2030 (Denton’s commitment date to 100% renewable energy), what additional fossil fuel infrastructure is required every time something like this is built etc. Stonewalling the public’s request for outside analysis is not the way to build trust in the RDP and hasn’t. In addition, those who would be living right next to these plants are only now being informed, and not by DME, by ordinary citizens who are taking the trouble to walk door to door. It is time to slow down and actually “think through” this, not just regurgitate talking points. This issue is not merely a dialogue between “experts” and “skeptics.” It is a call by the public for questions to be answered and not just by DME, Denton City Council and Staff, but also by outside experts experienced in helping cities and municipal utilities get to the best plans possible.

  34. The residents are being informed by the people you put in quotes above, with misinformation. Are they telling them that the methane emissions and other emissions are incredibly small? That one reason the plant sites are so large is to make sure there are more than adequate buffers to existing and future development? Are they telling them about the true benefits of the plan, including emission reductions? Or are they trying to spread fear and stop the plan because they hate the government or the use of natural gas, or both?

  35. No, Tom, people are not being given “misinformation.” That is the same tired, lame argument that was put forth during the run up to the Ban on Fracking last November. Also, your false dichotomy about hate and gas, is not worth the space it took to write; and Adam Briggle, attacking a false premise (expert v. skeptic) is not the same as an ad hominem attack. It is tiresome that whenever stronger arguments than yours are put forth, you so frequently turn to a ‘poor-me’ dodge of behaving as if personally attacked. You have done this too many times. Please stop this practice. It is undignified when all that is needed is to “think through” those stronger arguments and make an adjustment in your own, which it seems that you have, to a degree, done.

  36. Adam, please continue to try to examine things, keep an open mind and make your informed decision. Very few people truly do this, and I applaud you for it, especially since you are a leader of the community and in the public eye. I hate that you get attacked for it.
    The reason I decided to speak out is because, after moving here and hearing there was such an aggressive plan being proposed, I was ecstatic. Then I started hearing arguments against it and reading blogs and I was honestly amazed that the plan wasn’t good enough.

    Having been employed and trained as an engineer and also being one who cares about the environment, I understand that what DME is trying to do truly pushes the envelope in terms of what is possible in North Texas, a place with no significant hydro resources, geothermal resources, and caverns or salt domes to take advantage of for non-chemical storage applications. DME cannot and will not be able to use batteries for anything other than short bursts of energy called ancillary services, and even this would be at a very high cost at this time.

    They are at a unique place where the only generation they own is 100 MW of coal capacity that is aging and will be regulated out of the market in the next decade or so if it runs that long.

    The debt on this aging coal plant will be mostly paid off after 2018, just before the debt for the new plan starts to be paid. The new debt would be near historically low interest rates, unlike the rate locked in on the coal plant by a different council years ago.

    I come from a place that has a private utility and something like this could never happen there. I hope council recognizes this opportunity, like most great ones, won’t last forever.

  37. Adam, straight up, can you commit to supporting an air quality study and getting a second opinion on the DME plan? I’m not trying to tie you down to a specific consultant at all. The devil is always in the details. But can we agree on that narrow goal?

  38. This exact type of plant has been built before. Aren’t the emissions of those facilities (while they’re running) already known quantities? What would be the benefit or desired outcomes of the air quality study? Would they be any different than similar air quality impacts arising from new industrial development in the Denton area (another Peterbilt, Acme, etc.)? If not would we also fight to keep any large-scale manufacturing out of Denton on the basis of air quality?

  39. Yes, I want to see an air quality study done – and I also want to know how this compares to things like Peterbilt…because if air quality is our concern, then we ought to put it in the context of other kinds of development that exist in Denton and that will likely move here in the future. It would be ironic maybe or just odd if there was so much push back on this for air quality concerns but similarly polluting facilities move into town with no push back. I am hoping that we can get some more clarification on this.

  40. Agreed. Air Quality is one of the many reasons to slow down and hire an analyst. Projected costs is another. As for other polluting facilities, this is one of the many reasons people object to Buc-ee’s, another project rammed through without nearly sufficient consideration for the citizens of Denton. Pretty much everyone wants to be placed on the north end of town, not on the Pearson land. With the air quality as it is, Denton needs to consider carefully what large industries it can embrace, at least in the short term until this problem and other infrastructure problems are solved. But this forum is about the RDP and the holes in it.

  41. If you want to bring in Peterbilt or any other alleged private polluter for public scrutiny, have at it. I don’t buy the implication that it’s unfair to study DME’s impact on our F-rated air, but not Peterbilt, for example. DME asserted that the RDP would reduce emissions by 70% but that’s down to something like 30% now. We need a study on exactly what will happen to the air right here in Denton. Thank you for supporting that request.

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