Georgetown is now one of the largest cities in the U.S. to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy. Photovoltaic cells converting sunlight into power became one of our primary energy sources this summer. That happened on July 1 when the city started receiving electricity from the Buckthorn solar plant near Fort Stockton.
The 154-megawatt Buckthorn solar farm, owned by NRG Yield and operated by NRG Renewables, is the result of an agreement the City signed in 2015 to be the sole customer for power from the facility.
I attended a ribbon-cutting for the Buckthorn solar facility in late June. At the event, I met officials from NRG Energy and from Wells Fargo, who provided financing for the project. I also met Joe Shuster, county judge in Pecos County where the Buckthorn Plant is located. He shared that our solar plant is one of five located in Pecos County as a result of the county’s solar radiance factor, which is the second highest in the state. The electricity from Buckthorn is sent to our region on transmission lines.
The scale of our newest power plant is impressive. The Buckthorn solar plant is a mile long. It covers 1,250 acres, which is an area the size of 947 football fields. The plant contains 1.7 million solar panels which are mounted on a single-axis tracking system that rotate over the course of each day. This allows the panels to maintain a 90-degree angle to the sun and maximizes their electricity output.
In addition to the Buckthorn solar farm, Georgetown’s energy providers include Spinning Spur 3, a wind farm near Amarillo owned by EDF Renewable Energy, and the Southwest Mesa and South Trent wind farms in West Texas owned by AEP.
The wind turbines at Spinning Spur 3 in the Panhandle and the two AEP farms produce energy throughout the day. The solar panels at Buckthorn produce power in the daylight hours and especially in the afternoon, which matches our peak demand. The complementary nature of these two power sources is a good fit for our customer demand profile.
Power from wind- and solar-generated energy contracts for Georgetown’s publicly-owned electric utility provide more energy to the Texas electric grid than Georgetown uses. This is why our energy is 100 percent renewable.
Our 20- and 25-year contracts for this energy at a fixed price provide stability for our wholesale power costs. Currently, wind and solar power are among the lowest cost forms of energy in the Texas energy market.
With the startup of the Buckthorn solar plant, Georgetown takes another step forward in continuing to provide customers with 100 percent renewable energy.
So on the hottest days in the summer when the temperatures hit 100 degrees under a blue sky, we can feel a little better about all that Texas sunshine, knowing that it’s working to power our city.