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Denton must keep eye on energy sources

Profile image for Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial
Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial

Burning coal to generate electricity is a dirty business that creates air pollution. Medical experts believe coal-fired power plants contribute to childhood asthma attacks and other lung diseases.

Burning natural gas to generate electricity is cleaner than using coal, but experts agree that the future belongs to wind power and solar power.

City government, which owns Denton Municipal Electric, is trying to position itself squarely in the middle of the power generation equation.

The city wants to sell its stake in the Gibbons Creek coal-fired power plant, which it owns along with the cities of Garland, Bryan and Greenville. At the same time, the city is increasing its investment in so-called renewable energy sources. In addition, Denton is investing more than $200 million in a new gas-fired generation plant.

Joshua Rhodes, a research fellow at the University of Texas' Energy Institute, tells Texas Monthly wind power capacity edged out coal for the first time in Texas history last week courtesy of a new 155-megawatt wind farm in Scurry County, which is west of Abilene.

Fluvanna Wind Energy Project is on 32,000 acres leased from more than 130 landowners. Anyone traveling between Abilene and Snyder in West Texas has seen the massive windmills towering over farms and ranches.

The Energy Institute says Fluvanna pushed total wind power capacity in Texas to more than 20,000 megawatts, while coal capacity stands at 19,800 megawatts and is slated to fall to 14,700 megawatts by the end of 2018. Coal-fired plant closures planned for next year spell the demise of coal.

As Rhodes points out, capacity is one thing and actual power generation is another. In the first ten months of 2017, wind generated 17.2 percent of power in the state while coal provided 31.9 percent. But the percentage for coal is shrinking.

"By our analysis, in 2019 we'll have more energy from wind than coal," Rhodes told Texas Monthly.

Naturally, Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, are involved in this equation.

The Fluvanna wind farm is across the highway from Amazon Wind Farm Texas, which came online in late October. The Texas farm is the largest of Amazon's 18 existing wind and solar projects. Amazon expects to buy 90 percent of the farm's output to power its cloud data centers.

Bezos, who spent part of his childhood in Texas, marked the opening of the Amazon farm with flair. He climbed to the top of a 300-foot-tall turbine and smashed a bottle of champagne beneath his feet. Then, he posted video to Twitter.

Denton must keep a close eye on the best way to get the cheapest and most reliable sources of electricity. The energy picture is evolving rapidly.