We may have lost our battle to ban fracking in Denton but we can still fight Big Oil and Gas where it really hurts them while securing our energy future with clean renewables
As most of you know who read my blog regularly I am involved in local efforts to reduce the impact of fracking. Not only in Denton, Texas where citizens overwhelmingly passed a fracking ban in Nov. 2014, but also as a part of a growing concern state and nationwide where this oil and gas extraction process threatens local communities, drilling in close proximity to homes, schools and parks. Sadly the oil and gas industry in collusion with corporate-friendly state legislators negated the Denton fracking ban with House Bill 40.
The fight to repeal HB40 is underway but it will take time to achieve this as grassroots organizations across the state work to unite and create a force powerful enough to overcome the deep-pockets influence on state legislators. In the meantime, Denton is attempting to hit back at the gas and oil industry’s flagrant disregard for local rights by increasing our use of renewable energy. In so doing we can negatively effect the need to frack for oil and gas everywhere.
The writing is on the wall for such moves by local communities who seek to divest themselves of coal-fired power plants. There are also those communities, few in number presently, who are moving away from other fossil fuel sources like natural gas plants. A source of energy touted as being “cleaner” regarding its CO2 emissions, but is a greater threat to global warming with their methane emissions – a green house gas (GHG) that has a global warming potential 105 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period according to Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University.
The plan that is in the works for the municipally-owned energy company here in Denton – Denton Municipal Energy (DME) – is to increase our use of clean energy from 40% which right now is mainly wind energy, to 70%, by buying solar energy from a source just north of us in Muenster, Texas. The remaining energy will come from market sources (17%) and two new natural gas power plants here in Denton furnishing the remaining 13% as a “quick start” source during peak use periods in the summer. And as good as this plan is over the current one, the question arises, “why can’t we convert to 100% renewable?”
In fact the idea of building two new gas power plants at an initial estimate of $220 million (a cost that is sure to escalate over time) has many of us who voted to ban fracking in Denton angered over sustaining an industry who helped write HB40.
This decision to build two natural gas power plants in Denton to coincide with our increase of solar and wind energy seems self-defeating. What we gain by increasing our clean energy sources is lost completely as we burn natural gas to heat our homes and run our businesses. There are other options and several communities in the U.S., including Georgetown, Texas, are demonstrating they can provide ample energy for their citizens 24/7, 365 days a year using 100% clean energy sources of solar and wind.
I had a conversation with DME General Manager Phil Williams at a District 2 meeting on Sunday, October 18th who conveyed that this is conceivable with Denton also. However, Mr. Williams explained that DME doesn’t make the decisions that leads to our policy on energy. That directive comes from the city council itself. And we have just learned that the City Council plans to vote on this Renewable Denton plan in about a month from now – a plan that the voting public has only recently become aware of.
The concern here is that such a move should entail the voters and what seems like their legal right to vote on this issue being circumvented is becoming the fly in ointment for many. According to Denton City Ordinance Article XII, Sec. 12.01 “the City of Denton may own, acquire, construct, maintain, and operate any other public utility that may be approved by a majority of the qualified voters of the City voting therefor at an election held for such purpose;”
Back in 2012 city officials helped create a state bill that would allow the city to circumvent voters in choosing to build a power plant and sell natural gas. Originally it was intended to limit natural gas sells to the industrial area on Denton’s west side. But DME’s renewable plan is now indicating it will sell some of the gas-generated power to other communities. Nothing in the 2012 legislation known as SB1230 referred to a second gas-powered plant that will be built on a northeast quadrant in Denton. This 2nd plant intended to be used as back-up power for Denton citizens would likely not be covered by the intent of SB1230.
But the intrigue doesn’t end here. It has recently been learned that the owner of the property the city will purchase is owned by an LLC that has among other interests the Bolivar Oil Company which is involved with “operations, exploration and/or production of crude oil and natural gas.” Furthermore the city has contracted to purchase the 166 acres for the west-side power plant at a cost of $6.5 million. That’s $39,000 an acre which is a seven fold increase over what 2015 property tax rolls show averaging about $5,000 per acre.
The City Council was set to vote on this item in a 2:30pm public meeting on Oct. 30th but was rescheduled for Nov. 10th to accommodate council member Wazny who was going to be out of town on Oct. 30th and wanted to be a part of this important vote. This was a fortunate break for concerned voters, giving them time to muster their forces and make their presence known for this issue. The November 10th council meeting will likely be held at their usual time of 6:30pm when citizens have ended their work day and are better able to attend.
I don’t see any malicious scheming on the part of the city council. They’re not conspiring against those of us who voted to ban fracking within our city limits. Albeit reluctantly they supported the vote that restricted gas and oil drilling within Denton city limits. Only Keely Briggs in District 2 however was the brave lone vote that opposed repealing the ban following the implementation of HB40 and was willing to test this bill in court.
Regardless of the reasons why many on the council now are intent on pursuing a plan that includes two new gas-powered plants, I and many others are concerned about the direction this plan ultimately takes us. While far better than remaining attached to a dirty, finite coal source, it ignores that natural gas is also a finite source and just happens to be the variable that motivated us to seek a fracking ban within our city limits. You would think that having suffered a humiliating defeat by the powerful gas and oil industry and their cronies in the state legislature who wrote HB40 that the impetus would be to go beyond a plan that still rewards gas well drillers.
Putting our efforts behind a viable 100% renewable plan prepares us for a future that will secure an infinite source of energy for our children and grandchildren. It also puts us in the forefront of eliminating a carbon foot print that has aided in creating a warmer climate beyond natural conditions, threatening thousands of plant and animal species, our economic choices and even the only home we have ever known – Earth
It is also perhaps the best way I can think of to thumb our nose at the gas and oil industry who aided in robbing us of our century-old local control authority. Sometime in the future Denton and like-minded Texas cities may find the strength to come together and repeal HB40. But until then, depriving Big Oil and Gas of revenue to further their business, albeit a small one initially, can serve as some measure of retribution for all those grass root Davids confronting their corporate Goliaths