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New city energy debate echos hydraulic fracturing movement

New city energy debate echos hydraulic fracturing movement

New city energy debate echos hydraulic fracturing movement
October 24
17:10 2015

Adalberto Toledo | Staff Writer

@adaltoledo29

About 100 Denton residents turned out for Renewable Denton’s open house this week to learn more about a plan to increase renewable energy power in Denton from the current 40 percent to 70 percent by 2019. But some who attended left with more questions than answers.

A proposed objective of the plan is to build a $220 million Quick Start natural gas plant that, in conjunction with more solar and wind energy investments, will diminish the need for the city to purchase energy elsewhere and eliminate the city’s dependence on the Gibbons Creek Electric Station, where the city receives 29 percent of its energy.

A company spokesman for Denton Municipal Electric, Brian Daskam, said the company believes this plan is a good step for Denton.

“This plan has a great impact on the environment,” Daskam said. “The citizens want more renewable energy that is reliable and cost effective. Given the current technology and pricing market, this is the plan with the best rates.”

But the people who showed up at the open house Monday looked at the display boards with skepticism, asking DME employees questions over a three-hour window. That skepticism comes on the heels of the failed efforts of activists to ban hydraulic fracturing, a method to extract natural gas, within the city limits. The City Council, following the Texas Legislature’s passage of House Bill 40, repealed the fracking ban in a 6-1 vote in June.

Councilwoman Keely Briggs of District 2, a freshman city legislator, was the only no vote.

[df-subtitle]“I am not for natural gas. It’s the past,” Briggs said. “We’re committing our citizens to over 20 years of fossil fuels. It feels like we’re going backwards.”[/df-subtitle]

Briggs called the information provided at the DME open house presentation “propaganda” and said speculations over future gas prices are especially important to Denton residents.

“Wind and solar are on their own schedules,” Galen Gillum, DME executive manager for administrative services, said. “The plant is a backup for the days when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.”

Gillum said the DME has financial support from investors.

“It’s a dog and pony show meant to give justification for something they’re already going to do,” Denton resident Christie Wood said. “I’m just now getting my head around it.”

Wood was one of many attendees wearing a Frack Free Denton T-shirt.

“Right now its heading in one direction, and it’s going very fast,” Briggs said. “We already have such horrible air. We’re giving blood and life to the oil industry that screwed us.”

Briggs questioned DME’s $220 million price tag and said residents have no guarantee the price will remain the same through the plant’s completion. He said the Council has yet to receive any comparison charts of DME’s and other’s rates. Her harsh tone is in line with some residents, who believe not enough has been disclosed about the project.

Denton resident Philip Baker did not know much about Renewable Denton prior to the open house this week.

“Personally, I wasn’t aware of much more than I’m hearing now,” Baker said. “Have they given us enough background? I think they’ve been doing a lot of work that the public wasn’t aware of.”

Denton resident Don Merki, who owns an electric car, thinks something similar.

“It smells like roses in here, but there’s got to be some shit we’re not seeing,” Merki said. “Where’s the downside?”

The plan was introduced Oct. 6 after the City Council asked the DME to come up with a better energy plan. The investment of $220 million has residents worried, especially after learning the plant will not be paid off until 2036, according to DME estimates.

Briggs said Denton should develop an alternative energy plan and include the residents in the process. Merki, however, feels leasing the plant would give Denton more flexibility in the future.

[df-subtitle]“We need to look 30 years down the road. Do we still want to be burning stuff?” Merki said.[/df-subtitle]

District 1 councilman Kevin Roden, who was seated on the Council throughout the fracking debate, said Denton should not wait, because in any scenario the city is going to spend millions to meet its energy demands.

“I think it’s a tactic of people who don’t want to see something happen to wait for the sake of waiting,” Roden said. “Two months is enough. If there are some lingering points, let’s slow things down.”

Roden commended the work of the experts at the DME and said they have to make educated guesses.

“Part of good government is pushing things along,” Roden said. “I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”

The next Renewable Denton open house is from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27 in the Denton Civic Center.

Featured Image: File Photo

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