Historic district design guidelines update

The City of Georgetown has drafted initial revisions to the City’s Downtown and Old Town Overlay Design Guidelines based on City Council direction and public, stakeholder, consultant and staff recommendations, and is ready to present the proposed updates to the public for another round of public review and discussion.

“We are grateful for the community’s participation in the update and the continued investment in our historic past and the opportunities of the future,” Planning Director Sofia Nelson said. “We look forward to hearing the community’s feedback and ensuring these Design Guidelines continue to support our small-town charm and the values we hold for our Downtown, Old Town, and historic properties.”

The City’s project team will host a live, virtual open house from 3 to 4 p.m. April 28 via Zoom and the City‘s Facebook page. This virtual open house will focus on initial recommendations, including revisions to the content, the addition of graphics, and changes to the format of the guidelines to improve usability. The virtual meeting will be recorded and posted online for those not able to join live. Visit historic.georgetown.org for a link to the Zoom meeting, as well as a call-in number if you would like to join by phone.

Additionally, the City will use an online survey to collect feedback from the public on the proposed changes. The survey will open be open from April 28 to May 14, 2021, and will be available at historic.georgetown.org.

In April 2019, City Council adopted changes to the design review requirements for properties identified on the City’s Historic Resource Survey as well as for projects in the City’s historic overlay districts. The effort to update the Downtown and Old Town Overlay Design Guidelines, the special requirements for those properties and the historic overlay districts, began in October 2020.

Updating the guidelines will be done in three phases. Phase one was completed in February and included an analysis of the current Guidelines, stakeholder feedback, and public engagement. A summary of the engagement completed in Phase 1 can be found here. The public review of the proposed updates launching April 28 is the second phase of the project.

Phase 3 includes the review and recommendation from the Historic and Architectural Review Commission. City Council is expected to consider adoption in July.

For more information, contact the downtown and historic planner at 512-930-3581 or historic@georgetown.org, or by calling the Planning Department at 512-930-3575.

City to host household hazardous waste collection event May 12

The City will host a free household hazardous waste collection event from 3-6 p.m. May 12 at the former show barn site in San Gabriel Park, 425 E. Morrow St.

The event will be available for up to 300 Georgetown solid waste customers who have solid waste service through Texas Disposal Systems. Customers must contact Customer Care at 512-930-3640 or customercare@georgetown.org to have their name placed on a list. Please include your name, address, and utility account number when emailing customer care. Customers must have their name on the list to participate.

Due to COVID-19 safety measures, residents must remain in their vehicles during the no-contact collection. Staff will unload items from the back seat or trunk of the vehicle.

All items to be dropped off must be in their marked original containers. Commercial disposal and trailers are not allowed.

Acceptable items include:

  • Batteries (household, hearing aids, cell phone, etc.)
  • Automobile batteries
  • Pool and spa chemicals
  • Used oil/oil filters (up to five gallons per vehicle)
  • Transmission fluid
  • Light bulbs (including regular, compact, and four-foot fluorescent)
  • Grease
  • Thermometers
  • Over the counter, residential lawn and garden chemicals
  • Aerosols
  • Household cleaners and disinfectants marked caution, warning, or poison
  • Art and hobby chemicals
  • Paint (up to 10 gallons per vehicle)
  • Over the counter one-pound disposal propane bottles
  • Gasoline (up to five gallons per vehicle)

Unacceptable items include:

  • Unmarked containers or unknown chemicals
  • Construction, commercial, or landscape waste
  • Professional, concentrated chemicals that require a professional license to mix
  • Medications or pharmaceuticals
  • Oxygen tanks
  • Electronics
  • Tires
  • Explosives (including ammunition and fireworks)
  • Radioactive materials
  • Biological materials

Debris from the winter storm, including construction materials, will not be accepted at this event. Additional household hazardous waste collection events are being planned for 2021.

For more information about the City’s solid waste and recycling services, visit recycle.georgetown.org.

Williamson County is also hosting a household hazardous waste collection event open to all county residents from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, April 24 at the Leander Public Works Department, 607 Municipal Drive, in Leander. For more information, call 512-759-8881, option 4 or visit https://bit.ly/3648ZYX.

Updated: Tree limb cleanup for city residents + FAQ

[Updated at 4 p.m. April 2, 2021]

 

We finished collecting debris from the remaining areas as well as from areas submitted for pick up through the online form. Through Thursday, April 1, we collected nearly 14,000 cubic yards of debris from homes within City limits

If you still have debris, here are some options:

  • Georgetown solid waste customers who still have tree limb debris can drop it off at the Transfer Station, 250 W.L. Walden Drive, for $8.25 per cubic yard. There is no limit to how much customers can drop off. Click here for Transfer Station hours.
  • Texas Disposal Systems will collect bundled and/or bagged brush and limbs on your April brushy collection day, which is the first recycling pickup day of the month. Find your schedule: texasdisposal.com/waste-wizard

The curbside debris pickup service was provided free of charge to people who live inside City limits.

Tree limb cleanup FAQ

The City of Georgetown has contracted with landscaping firms to pick up tree limbs that resulted from the winter storm Feb. 11-20. This FAQ addresses key questions about the special pickup.

When will the tree limb pickup begin and end?

Tree limb pickup started on Wednesday, Feb. 24, and ended Friday, April 2. Crews collected nearly 14,000 cubic yards of tree limb debris.

What if I live in the extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, but have solid waste and recycling service from the City of Georgetown?

Residents in the ETJ with solid waste service from the City of Georgetown should contact a contractor to remove large limbs.

Solid waste customers in the ETJ can also dispose of tree limbs and brush at the Transfer Station, 250 W.L. Walden Drive. The Transfer Station is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. There is no limit to how much customer can drop off.

How much will I be charged for the special tree limb and debris collection?

There was no special fee assessed to residents for this limb and debris collection. The cleanup was a City service to residents funded by general fund revenues.

What if I have plumbing or home repair needs?

If plumbing or home repair is needed, ask your contractor if they have a permit for the work from the City of Georgetown Building and Inspection Department. Not all repair work will require a building permit, but it is better to ask or check with the City of Georgetown. If you have questions about building permits or if a building permit is needed, please contact our Building and Inspections Department at 512-930-2550 or at permits@georgetown.org. The City is waiving some permit fees on a case-by-case basis. The Building and Inspections Department currently is very busy, so please leave a message, if needed, and staff will be in contact with you. If you are home during the limb or debris cleanup, please do not hesitate to reach out to the City of Georgetown employees who will be escorting the debris cleanup contractors.

What if I have other questions?

If you have additional questions that were not addressed in the FAQ, please contact City of Georgetown Customer Care at customercare@georgetown.org or call 512-930-3640.

Mural at Art Center to reflect diversity

A mural is planned at the Georgetown Art Center, 816 S. Main St., as part of the larger vision of the Downtown Georgetown Cultural District. The Georgetown Public Art Program received a Cultural District grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts for the mural, which will feature the theme of diversity. Four artists with diverse backgrounds and styles, who have already contributed significantly to the collection of local public art murals, will team up on this diversity-themed, street art-style project: Sarah Blankenship (Greetings from Georgetown, TX mural), Norma Clark and Devon Clarkson (Preserving History mural project), and J. Muzacz (El Arbol “The Tree” and Best Friends K9 Heroes murals, which he created in collaboration with veteran artist Jay Rivera).

The mural will be installed in April on the two-story west exterior wall of the Georgetown Art Center, which is adjacent to the entrance of the District Six restaurant (rendering at right). A public painting event is planned in collaboration with the constituents of Art from the Streets and other community members. The colors selected for the mural relate to District Six, as well as the accent colors of the historic Mesker Brothers storefronts of the Downtown Georgetown Cultural District. There will be a mural dedication event in July coinciding with the opening reception of the Georgetown Art Center’s Street Art exhibit.

The mural seeks to raise awareness of the diversity of culture, programming, artists, and arts audiences in Georgetown and honors the community outreach, engagement and education efforts by the Georgetown Arts and Culture Program and the Georgetown Art Center, which is managed by nonprofit group Georgetown Art Works. Each artist’s design represents their unique connection to Georgetown and the inspiration behind it.

Muralist J. Muzacz chose to represent hope, optimism, diversity, and the next generation of youth chasing their dreams by painting a stylized portrait of local Georgetown resident and emerging young artist Kayla Moore, whose utility box painting, “Cloudy Day” can be seen at Eighth Street and Austin Avenue on the Square.

“I love that art students are able to express themselves and share their emotions, struggles, and dreams with the community in such an inspiring way,”Muzacz said. Muzacz is a member of the Texas Commission on the Arts Texas Touring Roster, and the Georgetown Arts and Culture Program received additional grant funding from the TCA to include him as an artist for this project.

Abstract artist Norma Clark chose to represent two separate images that are inspirational and personal to her. One image is the sunflower that represents Brookwood in Georgetown, BiG, a vocational community for adults with special needs. Brookwood believes the citizens of “BiG” are unique like the sunflower seed that can lay dormant for years, but under the right conditions, can grow and bloom.

As the mother of an adult child with special needs, Clark said, “I love incorporating this into my work to inspire others to embrace and welcome unique art and accept unique individuals.”

The second image represented is Southwestern University’s emblem since generations of Clark’s family have a history with the institution.

“This was the place that formed my foundation as an artist, an area that otherwise I would have never explored professionally,” Clark said.

Muralist Sarah Blankenship has a background in historic preservation having worked at the Texas Historical Commission and served on historic preservation boards in Georgetown. Blankenship chose to represent an appreciation of art in public spaces.

“I love to see art in our everyday lives, from restaurants, to workplaces, to our downtowns, even in nature,” she said. “I want it to surround us in unique ways, to be available to a diverse audience, rather than it be thought of for museums or galleries.”

The image of the Corinthian column—including a capital featuring leaves and flowers—was specifically chosen because the leaves give a connection to nature, and Georgetown’s parks have been a continual source of spiritual energy for Blankenship. This type of column can be seen on the Williamson Museum on Austin Avenue.

Blankenship’s other images include enlarged and abstracted elements from the Mesker pressed-metal cornices and window caps of the historic downtown buildings. Designs are from the Lockett, Dimmitt, Mileham, and Williamson County Sun buildings and the Georgetown Art Center. The three radiating circles at the bottom right of the mural “represent my family and the three energies we all have to balance in life and as artists from any background: Spiritual, intellectual and warrior,” she said.

Portrait artist Devon Clarkson chose to represent the impact of art education and the importance of engaging children in the process. Clarkson’s own children became the inspiration for the portraits in his section and are shown participating in the creation of the mural.

“My kids were the single most important reason I took a shot at art,” he said.

The second image chosen by Clarkson is an abstracted representation of the bridges in the community, a symbol that is uniquely Georgetown and reminiscent the area’s identification as the “Land of Good Water,” as the original settlements in the area were located where clear, natural spring waters were easily accessible.

For updates on the project, as well as information on other art and cultural events in the Downtown Georgetown Cultural District, visit arts.georgetown.org.

Arts and Culture Board mural artists selected, work begins

The City’s Arts and Culture Board has two new murals underway in Georgetown.

Animal Shelter—”Pick Me” mural

The “Pick Me” mural is expected to be completed March 28 at the Georgetown Animal Shelter, 110 W.L. Walden Drive.

The Georgetown Animal Shelter and Georgetown Arts and Culture Board selected artist Jason Tetlak of Jacksonville, Florida, in February to complete the mural.

Georgetown Title mural

Georgetown Title, in collaboration with the Arts and Culture Board, has selected Oakland, California, artist Molly Keen for the mural design that will be installed this spring.

The mural design “Railway Rhymes,” features abstract shapes and colors while highlighting a train element that represents the history of the site, which was once home to Belford Lumber Company and a stop on the railroad.

This project is the first commercial mural as part of the Percent for Public Art Adjacent to Capital Improvement Projects. The Georgetown Title building, 702 Rock St., is adjacent to two public improvements projects, including the Rock Street sidewalk improvements and the new Eighth Street parking lot. This program presents an opportunity for public art to beautify surrounding spaces that have become more visible to the public.

For more information about the projects, visit arts.georgetown.org.

Proposed Voluntary Annexations of 22.27 Acres (Johnson Place PUD) and 55.65 Acres (The Bagwell Tract)

The City of Georgetown is considering the voluntary annexation of two properties into the city limits.  A Public Hearing will be held for each request at the April 13, 2021 City Council meeting at 6:00pm. City Council meetings are located at the City Council Chambers, 510 W. 9th Street. Due to operational constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this meeting may be held via video conference and call in number. The final location of the meeting and instructions on how to join via the video conference or call in number meeting will be posted with the meeting agenda at agendas.georgetown.org the Wednesday prior to the meeting.

  1. An approximately a 22.27-acre tract out of the Barney C. Low Survey, Abstract No. 385, and a 1.99-acre portion of Westinghouse Road, a right-of-way of varying width general described to the City of Georgetown, Texas, generally located at 1100 & 1200 Westinghouse Road, to be known as the Johnson Place PUD (2020-12-ANX).

Location Map

  1. An approximately 55.65-acre tract of land out of the Isaac Donagan Survey, Abstract No. 178, generally located at 3313 and 3321 W. SH 29, to be known as The Bagwell Tract (2021-1-ANX).

Location Map

After holding the required public hearings, the City Council will consider an ordinance for the annexation.

As a member of the general public you are invited to be present at such meeting if you desire to discuss the proposed change or advisability of any other change.

A copy of the planning report related to these items will be available at the Planning Department located at 809 Martin Luther King Jr Street or at agendas.georgetown.org, no later than the Friday prior to the meeting described above.  For further information, call the Planning Department office at 512-930-3575.

 

Loram Technologies to build rail R&D center in Georgetown

A global rail maintenance and rail services company plans to start construction later this year on an innovation center for research and development in Georgetown. Loram Technologies, formally GREX, expects to employ 310 people at the center after the expansion, including 150 new positions.

“The vision behind Loram Technologies Inc. is to build on GREX’s successful railroad technology solutions while harmonizing Loram’s mergers and acquisitions activity over the last several years,” Loram Technologies President Greg Grissom said. “By aligning global software, data, and engineering teams, we will accelerate new product development and bring our railroad customers the very best in next generation technology products and field services. Loram is also thrilled to bring further investment into Georgetown with a new state of the art office and manufacturing facility with construction starting in late 2021.”

Loram Maintenance of Way acquired Georgetown-based GREX in 2018. GREX changed its name to Loram Technologies on Jan. 1, 2021, and remains based in Georgetown. The parent company is headquartered in Hamel, Minn., has six global offices, and is a supplier of track maintenance equipment and services for freight railroads, transit systems, and commuter railroads.

Loram expects to invest $17 million in the Georgetown research and development center with an average salary of $60,000. A Georgetown Economic Development Corporation agreement with Loram approved by City Council at its Feb. 23 meeting includes a job retention and creation grant of $1,000 per job, plus an infrastructure reimbursement for a total incentive of $800,000 for the project.

“We are excited to be home to this research and manufacturing facility in Georgetown,” Georgetown Mayor Josh Schroeder said. “Expanding on the innovation of GREX, a home-grown rail technology company started by Ned Snead, is great. This center adds highly skilled jobs in our community and keeps us on track to strengthen our economy.”

Updated: Energy cost impact + FAQ

City issues $48M debt issuance, no rate change for customers

Updated, March 24: The City of Georgetown issued about $48 million in a 10-year bond to pay for the unbudgeted energy costs incurred due to February’s winter storm. City Council in a special-called meeting March 2 directed staff to pay the debt over 10 years from electric utility revenues at current rates. Council approved the bond at its regular meeting March 23.

“Even as we got word on the exorbitant cost of energy while we were in the middle of the disaster, our focus was delivering electricity to our customers and controlling the variables we could,” Mayor Josh Schroeder said. “Another variable we have some control over is the burden placed on Georgetown electric customers as a result of this event, and the steps we took Tuesday will mitigate additional costs for our customers.”

As a result of the planned bond issuance, Georgetown electric customers will see no difference in their electric rates, despite the high energy costs during the storm. The City’s bill currently was due at the beginning of April 2021. Council and staff are committed to retiring this debt as soon as possible, while maintaining competitive rates for customers. Any changes to rates or the bond needed because of an amended bill will be brought before the council for discussion and direction.

At City Council direction, the City will use the existing power cost adjustment of $0.01375 per kilowatt hour to help cover the cost of the bond as it is paid back over 10 years. For the average residential customer, that amounts to about $10 a month. The current PCA generates about $6 million a year, which would cover the additional, annual debt payment of $5.3 million from the 10-year bond.

The City also is pursuing a surety policy to cover an additional $6.4 million in reserves, which may be required to maintain debt service coverage ratios after the costs from the winter storm. The one-time, up-front payment for the policy will be paid for using existing revenues.

Customers might have seen higher-than-normal electric bills for February due to increased usage. Even with the mandated power outages from ERCOT, heating and reheating of a home consumes considerable energy and is likely to result in higher bills this month. The City has multiple options to help you pay your electric bill, such as funding assistance through partner agencies and in-house customer programs you may qualify for. People can contact Customer Care at 512-930-3640 or customercare@georgetown.org to discuss options.

The City currently owes about $48 million for energy used Feb. 14 through 20. About $21 million of that is for about 3,000 megawatt hours. The remaining 13,000 megawatt hours the City used during the storm were generated by providers at contracted rates. Roughly $27 million of what the City owes is for ancillary services, which are charges for reserve or on-demand power supply by ERCOT that cost as much as $25,000 per megawatt hour during the event. For context, the City paid $710,000 in ancillary services in all of 2020. The remaining $21 million is for energy costs, which peaked at $9,000 per megawatt hour. Last month, the average cost per megawatt hour was $20.79. The $9,000 per megawatt hour maximum price was in effect in the ERCOT market for 70 hours from Feb. 16 to 19.

“We’re still hopeful PUCT and legislators find solutions that will help alleviate the financial burden being placed on utilities across the state,” Schroeder said. “I encourage you to reach out to your state representatives and trust we will be doing the same.”

How will the recent winter storm affect my electric bill?

Georgetown rates will not change, but you could see higher bills due to usage.

While it is true that the wholesale price of power increased exponentially for all Texas electric utilities during February’s extreme weather, City of Georgetown electric customers will see no difference in their electric rates at this time. At the direction of City Council, the City of Georgetown took out a loan of about $48 million, to be paid by electric revenue over 10 years, to cover our unbudgeted energy costs from the storm.  Interest on the loan will total about $5 million at a 1.73 percent interest rate. Any changes will be communicated publicly through this webpage, other City communications channels, and the media.

If your electric bill was higher than normal for this time of year, it likely was due to how much energy you used during the storm. Heating your home during cold weather uses a significant amount of energy, even more so if you experienced outages and needed to reheat your home. We know some of those outages were in response to ERCOT’s load shed/rotation outage requirements to protect the statewide electric grid from collapsing. We have multiple options to help you pay your electric bill, such as funding assistance through partner agencies and in-house customer programs you may qualify for.

The rest of this page provides more detail on what happened and answers to frequently asked questions about the situation.

Virtual Town Hall about electric costs

Watch the recording of the March 11 town hall. The event featured presentations and Q&A from Georgetown Mayor Josh Schroeder, City Manager David Morgan, and electric general manager Daniel Bethapudi.

Read the slides from the presentation here.

Resources: 

Please note: This information is about City of Georgetown electric customers only. If you are a customer of Pedernales Electric Cooperative or Oncor, you will need to review their information or make contact with them to determine how the storm will affect your bill. Here is a map of the different electric service providers in Georgetown if you aren’t certain.

Oncor: 888-313-4747 /  Oncor
PEC: 888-883-3379 / PEC

Electric bills and winter storm impact FAQ

Statewide issue
Why are some Texans seeing incredibly high electric bills?

The effect on residential customers will depend on where they get their energy from. Most residential electricity customers, such as City of Georgetown electric customers, are on fixed-price contracts with their power providers. As such, these customers are not exposed to changes in their rates due to scarcity-driven changes in the wholesale price of electricity.

Residential electricity prices in Texas are set in one of three ways:

1) Rates for electric cooperatives and municipally-owned utilities, such as Georgetown, are fixed and are approved by their respective city councils or governing boards. The Pedernales Electric Cooperative, which serves some Georgetown residents, also falls under this category.

2) Outside the ERCOT region, regulated utilities also charge fixed rates that are approved by the Public Utility Commission;

3) In areas with retail competition, customers have a contract with a retail electric provider that they have chosen. There is not a mechanism where a retail electric provider can go back and change the price agreed to in the contract. Georgetown residents in the Oncor service area, for example, have to pick a retail provider.

(Source: PUCT: Electricity Prices during the 2021 Winter Storm.)

How do the wholesale market prices work?

The wholesale price of electricity is set in a market in which sellers of electricity (power generators) and buyers of electricity (retail electric companies) agree to a price based on supply and demand. Wholesale electricity can be bought in long-term contracts between buyers and sellers. If a power generator cannot generate enough of its own electricity to fulfill the contract, that power generator will have to buy power in the real-time market to make up the difference.

The real-time market is another way that electricity is bought and sold. Each year, an offer cap is reviewed and placed on the wholesale market price. The maximum wholesale market price for electricity is reserved for extreme scarcity conditions to encourage any and all generation able to come online and acts as a penalty for generators who fail to show up when needed. The cap currently is $9,000 per megawatt hour.

(Source: PUCT: Electricity Prices during the 2021 Winter Storm.)

Why did the cost of energy increase so much during the storm?

During the week of the storm, freezing temperatures caused cascading problems in the state’s energy production and delivery systems, ultimately forcing both fossil-fuel based and renewable-generation plants to fail and reducing the amount of electricity available for purchase.

At the same time, people throughout the state were trying to heat their homes. Heating a home in freezing weather consumes a considerable amount of energy. Reheating a home after a power outage, like those mandated by ERCOT to save the grid from catastrophic collapse, added even more demand to an already taxed system.

As a result of that significant gap between supply and demand statewide, and the resulting need to incentivize all electric generators to come online and stay online to stabilize the grid, the price for wholesale electricity jumped to its pre-determined cap of $9,000 per megawatt hour for 70 hours from Feb. 16-19. All electric utilities that had to purchase energy from the ERCOT energy markets were charged this rate for energy used in this period. For reference, the average cost per megawatt hour in January 2021 was $20.79.

Texas natural gas prices experienced similar spikes, rising from $2 per million BTU the week before the storm to an average of $200 per million BTU, according to Fitch Ratings.

ERCOT also imposed other ancillary services rates that peaked at $25,000 per megawatt hour. Most load-serving entities in Texas, such as Georgetown, pay ERCOT a fee—the ancillary service charge—to procure reserve or on-demand generation on our behalf, in the event additional generation is needed to support the statewide grid. Normally, these costs are negligible, but during the extreme cold weather event, the per megawatt was not subject to a cap and resulted in a steep spike.

The City of Georgetown, for example, currently owes $17 million for ancillary services. For comparison, the City paid $710,000 in ancillary services in all of 2020. In other words, we were charged more for ancillary services in six days than we normally pay in 25 years.

Statewide, ERCOT estimated the wholesale market would incur charges of $55 billion during the week of the storm, which is what it normally incurs over four years. All electric utilities in Texas are being asked to share these costs relative to their usage and energy contracts.

I've heard reports of other cities, like the City of Austin, not having to do rolling outages or pay the high bills Georgetown has. Why is that?

Different municipally-owned utilities will have varying impacts from the weather event. Each city has a unique mix of generation sources and load to serve, and therefore a unique risk profile in the market. All electric utilities had to shed load during the event.

Who is profiting from the high energy bills? Is this not considered price gouging?

The State is working now to determine whether there was overpricing and, if so, how that can be addressed. We encourage you to reach out to our representatives and let them know your thoughts about the pricing.

Have energy costs ever gone up to $9,000 per mwh before, and did the City know prices could go that high?

There have been a few instances since 2015 when the price reached the $9000 per mwh. The major difference between the earlier instances and this event is how long the prices stayed at $9000 per mwh. During the winter weather event of February 2021, the prices stayed at $9000 per mwh for about 70 hours.

The City did not expect the prices to stay at $9000 per mwh for that long. This pricing event is unprecedented.

How was the $9,000 per megawatt hour maximum set?

ERCOT sets the maximum per megawatt hour pricing based on what it thinks would be a high enough incentive to bring generators into the market when supply is running critically low.

Why was the price of energy set at the maximum of $9,000 per mwh?

Energy pricing in the statewide grid is set to allow for fluctuation, so it can reflect the market. However, no one in the state ever anticipated having the amount of load shed or duration of extreme pricing as we saw this February. The cap is generally intended to last for a short period of time, to encourage generators to get into the market and increase energy supply statewide. As we know, several generators were unable to do this due to the extreme weather.

The State is working now to determine whether there was overpricing/billing errors and, if so, how that can be addressed. We encourage you to reach out to our representatives and let them know your thoughts about the pricing.

Can you explain how the rolling blackouts worked? It didn't seem like everyone experienced them equally.

Power outages experienced during the storm were tied directly to the severity and longevity of the winter weather. Temperatures in Texas reached lower than they have in 30 years, and crews worked around the clock to restore power and share updates as best we could.

This ongoing, prolonged, and widespread frigid weather across the state caused the statewide electric system — managed by ERCOT — to be strained by high demand and low operating reserves. Operating reserves are low when the capacity of available resources, such as power plants, only slightly exceeds anticipated customer demand across the ERCOT system.

In order to make sure critical infrastructure, like hospitals, retain power, ERCOT required all utilities across the state to reduce the amount of electricity to our customers. The City of Georgetown, like several other utilities across the state, accomplished this by rotating outages across non-critical customers, including residences and commercial facilities.

ERCOT requires energy providers to prepare for load shed every year, mostly to prepare for peak usage season in the summertime. Based on our system and our plan with ERCOT, Georgetown was prepared to shed up to nine megawatts across seven circuits in our system. These circuits were selected because they don’t have any critical infrastructure tied to them. Critical load circuits include hospitals, control centers, 911, the airport, and water/wastewater plants and are not subject to outages.

Initially, ERCOT asked us to shed two megawatts. Within an hour, that requirement jumped to 20 megawatts. Because Georgetown was mandated by ERCOT to shed so much additional load to help reduce demand, we quickly had to come up with a way to add more non-critical load circuits we could take offline to spread the shed requirements. Ultimately, we were able to rotate outages among 25 circuits. Areas of Georgetown that remained with power likely share a circuit with a critical load circuit.

Georgetown impact
How much does the City owe because of the increases to energy costs?

As of March 23, the City of Georgetown issued a $48 million bond for the unbudgeted power costs during the extreme winter weather event (Feb. 14-20).

How is the City going to pay that bill?

At City Council direction, the City issued $48 million of debt, which we will pay over the course of 10 years at our current rate structure, including the $0.01375 per kilowatt hour power cost adjustment (PCA). For the average residential customer, that amounts to about $10 a month.

The City issued what is known as self-supporting, tax-backed debt. In this debt structure, we will pay down the debt from the electric revenues but will pledge property taxes as collateral. This is a common practice among cities with utilities and will help the City receive a better interest rate on the bonds.

What effect will this have on the City’s finances and bond rating?

The Water Utility and Electric utility have historically pledged their debt together in order to receive higher credit ratings, and that existing debt is protected by rules called covenants. Because the $48 million owed significantly outpaces our budget and revenues, the City may have to set aside additional reserves as part of our existing bond covenants for both water and electric in order to meet its debt service coverage ratio obligations.

The debt coverage ratio is the number of times net operating revenue (operating revenue minus operating expense) covers the annual debt principal and interest payment. The ratio must cover water and electric outstanding revenue bond debt, which are co-pledged together. This is required in the rules (covenants) governing our existing bonds for both utilities. Debt coverage ratios are also used by bond-rating agencies to assess creditworthiness. Net operating revenue must cover the annual payment 1.35 times, or else the springing reserve is required.

The “springing reserve” would total $6.4 million in accordance with those existing bond agreements. The council directed staff to pursue a surety policy, which involves a one-time, up-front payment of a percentage of that amount. The insurance policy is an overall lower-cost option that will mitigate additional burdens on customers. It requires funding the policy one-time upfront. Funding the reserve would require larger ongoing payments continuously for 60 months.

On Feb. 26, Standard and Poor’s put Georgetown Utility Systems on CreditWatch negative. On March 3, the rating agency downgraded the City’s utility bond rating from AA- to A+. Standard and Poor’s may take additional action over the coming months. If we receive a lower bond rating, it will affect our ability to secure low-interest rates on future bonds and debt.

Why doesn’t the City use existing cash reserves to buy down what’s owed?

Staff did not recommend this, and Council agreed, because we need to preserve what reserves we have. The unrestricted reserves we have in the electric utility aren’t enough to make much of a difference in the large price tag we are facing. Reserves help bolster our bond rating and are needed in case another emergency happens.

What happens if the City doesn’t pay what’s owed?

If the City doesn’t pay this electric bill, we open ourselves up to several risks, including litigation and the inability to sell bonds and secure energy.

Some retail electric providers have decided to walk away from what they owe to ERCOT. As a result, there is a chance other providers, including Georgetown electric, will have to help cover the costs. If electric generators are not paid what is owed, they could stop generating electricity, limiting the amount of energy available on the state’s electric grid.

What other options does the City have?

At this point, the City’s options are limited to petitioning our Texas legislators and pursuing litigation. The City is reviewing all options and will share more if and as we are able.

What does this have to do with Georgetown’s renewable energy contracts?

During the event (Feb. 14-20), the City used 16,000 megawatt hours. Of those, our electric energy contracts covered about 13,000 megawatt hours. The remaining 3,000 megawatt hours were exposed to the $9,000 per megawatt hour prices. In essence, our existing energy contracts covered about 80 percent of our electric needs during the event, substantially insulating us from the high wholesale market costs.

The energy delivered through our renewable energy contracts is variable, as generation allows. This is due to the intermittent nature of solar and wind generation.

During the extreme winter weather event, there were periods of time when our renewable energy facilities were degraded due to icy conditions.

The City is always actively working to improve our risk management practices, including managing our existing portfolio and as our energy needs as load requirements grow.

To read more about our energy contracts and the PCA, click here.

What did the City learn from this and what is it doing to plan and prepare for the next natural disaster?

Much of what happened during the extreme cold weather event was out of our control; however, the variables we can control, we will. We have had an after-action meeting and will present our findings and recommendations to Council.

For the electric utility, we will continue to review, update, and follow our risk-management policies. This includes aligning our policies with any new market structures or changes the state imposes as a result of this event.

Does the City have any alternatives it could use to avoid rolling blackouts, like a demand reduction program or smart meters?

Some of the City’s large, commercial customers do participate in demand-response programs, and we plan on refining that program. We will be exploring the use of our advanced metering infrastructure (Smart Meters) to develop a more targeted load shedding program.

Can the City apply for any federal funding through the disaster declarations?

We are exploring all options.

What is the plan for Georgetown's energy needs as it continues to grow, and as temperatures become more extreme?

Georgetown is looking at all possible options that can help us meet our growth needs while addressing the risks posed by events like the extreme winter weather event.

Georgetown electric customers
What has the City of Georgetown done to protect its electric customers?

In a special-called meeting Tuesday, March 2, 2021, the Georgetown City Council directed staff to pursue a surety policy and a 10-year bond to cover the costs and reserve requirements resulting from the City’s $48 million electric bill. Council’s direction mitigates impacts to customers and keeps our rates flat.

The individual residential City of Georgetown consumer is not exposed to wholesale market prices and should not see extremely high electricity bills as a result of the wholesale energy costs. Georgetown customers might see higher than normal bills due to higher usage. We have multiple options to help you pay your electric bill, such as funding assistance through partner agencies and in-house customer programs you may qualify for.

Is the City going to pass those costs onto me?

Thanks to the financial stability of our electric utility and direction from City Council, we are able to pay our electric bill from the storm with the existing rate structure under the 10-year loan.

We will use the existing, monthly PCA customers pay to fund the annual debt. For the average residential customer, the $0.01375 per kilowatt hour PCA amounts to about $10 a month.

We lowered the PCA by 1 cent in January, and our goal was to eliminate it altogether in 2022, when we would see savings from having one of our purchased power contracts end. Based on current circumstances, we will use the existing PCA to pay for the debt incurred during the winter storm. That does not mean the PCA will stay at its current level for 10 years. Our goal is to provide a safe, reliable utility with competitive rates. We have been and will continue working very diligently to further reduce the PCA.

Is there anything I can do about this issue or to stay informed?

Please consider contacting your representatives in the Texas Legislature to let them know how this is affecting Georgetown.

Stay informed by following the Texas Legislature, local media, and City communications channels. As we have updates that affect our customers, we will share them.

I can’t afford to pay my bill.

We have multiple options to help you pay your electric bill, such as funding assistance through partner agencies and in-house customer programs you may qualify for. Please contact Customer Care at 512-930-3640 or customercare@georgetown.org to discuss options.

How is my usage up when I was without power for so long?

Georgetown electric customers are charged only for the power consumed and will be charged at the existing rates. Anyone without power during this time had no electric use recorded from meters during these outages. Heating – and reheating – your home for days in subfreezing temperatures consumed a considerable amount of electricity, resulting in higher electric bills.

How can I tell how much electricity I used in February and how that compares to previous months?

Georgetown Utility Analysis and Reporting Doorway is a portal that allows customers to track water and energy usage on a daily basis. This is a great tool to gain an understanding of how much water and energy you consume, and can be useful to help with conservation and reducing cost of utility bills. Click this link to view our helpful GUARD introduction video that will provide instructions for registering and utilizing this tool. Click here to register.

What do I do if I think my usage and/or bill is wrong?

Several people have reached out about high electric bills that are the result of multiple months, rather than the winter storm. If you have any questions about your bills, please contact Customer Care at 512-930-3640 or customercare@georgetown.org. Due to anticipated, larger-than-average calls, please give staff a few days to respond.

COVID-19 vaccines open to all adults March 29

All adults will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Texas beginning Monday, March 29. The Texas Department of State Health Services expects vaccine supplies to increase next week, and providers in multiple parts of the state have made great strides in vaccinating people in the current priority groups. The state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel recommended opening vaccination to everyone who falls under the current Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorizations to protect as many Texans as possible.

Click here to read more form the Texas Department of State Health Services. 

Click here to join the Williamson County waitlist: https://bit.ly/38P8y74

Brazos River Authority: Lake Georgetown in Stage 1 Drought Watch

Lake Georgetown is in Stage 1 Drought Watch as a result of drier than normal conditions in portions of the Brazos River basin and drought trigger levels set by the Brazos River Authority’s Drought Contingency Plan.

As of March 17, 2021, Lake Georgetown was at 67 percent of full capacity, according to the authority. Williamson County is also in a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s March 18 update. Practicing wise water use now will help to ensure adequate water supply during the hotter summer months.

City of Georgetown water utility customers should make sure they follow the two-day watering schedule for irrigation systems and hose-end sprinklers. The year-round, two-day per week irrigation schedule is based on the last digit of the street address.

The watering schedule is posted at gus.georgetown.org/water/whatsmyschedule.

Irrigation is not permitted on Mondays because they are a maintenance and recovery day for the water system. The two-day schedule spreads watering over six days each week in order to balance demand on the water system. Watering with a hand-held hose or bucket can be done any day and at any time. Other outdoor water uses like washing a vehicle or filling a swimming pool, can be done any day at any time.

Violations of the irrigation schedule may result in fines.

During the summer months, 75 percent of the drinking water treated each day in the city is used to irrigate lawns and landscapes. Following the City’s two-day watering schedule and adjusting irrigation run times can help save water and still maintain a healthy lawn.

While the City is not running out of water, conservation during the hottest and driest parts of the year helps ensure our shared resource is available for all who need it. The City also has several ongoing water utility expansion projects to help meet the needs of our growing population, including the Lake Water Treatment Plant expansion expected to be completed in summer 2023.

The best time for watering your lawn and landscape is on your watering day in the early morning hours after midnight. This allows the water to soak into the soil and reach the roots of your grass and plants. Watering during the heat of the day, especially between noon and 7 p.m., should be avoided since much of the water sprayed from sprinklers will evaporate and is wasted.

For help setting your irrigation controller, call customer care at 512-930-3640.

For more information on the Drought Contingency Plan, visit gus.georgetown.org/water/drought-information.