The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has challenged Georgetown’s 100 percent renewable energy policy, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a man seeking information about how much energy is produced by solar panels on a city building.
The city has refused to provide information despite two open record requests by resident Terrill Putnam about how much time it will take for hundreds of solar panels on the roof of the Westside Service Center, at 5501 Williams Drive, to generate enough energy to pay back their installation costs, the lawsuit filed Wednesday said.
“It is very suspicious and concerning about why they would try to hide that,” Robert Henneke, the general counsel and director of litigation for the foundation, said Friday. “Here’s a document that would show the math on this investment of taxpayer resources that the city won’t turn over.”
Mayor Dale Ross disagreed. “It is unfortunate that a Georgetown resident would convince an organization to use their resources to file a lawsuit that clearly wastes limited and valuable Georgetown taxpayer dollars in pursuit of a personal agenda,” he said Friday.
The city of 65,000 is the only Texas city to operate entirely on renewable energy.
City Council Member Steve Fought told Putnam that a “payback analysis” had been performed and that Putnam should request it through open records, Henneke said.
After Putnam made his first open records request Nov. 16, 2016, the city referred it to the Texas attorney general’s office, which determined the information could be withheld because it was a competitive matter related to a public power utility, the lawsuit said.
Putnam submitted a second open records request Aug. 28, 2017, asking for information on why the issue was a competitive matter, but the city said Putnam’s request was repetitive and that it had already answered the question. It also said the documents required legal research the city was not required to do, according to the lawsuit.
Henneke said that Putnam was not asking the city to create new records but was asking for a document that Fought said was available.
“The greater issue here is how government asserts these exceptions to public disclosure,” he said.
Ross said the “main point of the suit has been ruled on in Georgetown’s favor on multiple previous occasions by the Texas attorney general’s office, and in my view, as mayor, the suit is baseless and without merit.”
“The Georgetown taxpayer funds being wasted in defending this suit could be better used to fund Georgetown public safety, roads or other essential city services,” Ross said.
In early August, a policy analyst at the foundation ran an editorial in the American-Statesman saying Georgetown’s reliance on 100 percent renewable energy would not work for other Texas cities in part because such energy is only feasible because of “impressive tax subsidies.”
The editorial also said if the wind and solar power that Georgetown relies upon fails, the city will have to get power from the grid run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas that includes energy from all sources, including fossil fuels.
Ross later ran an editorial in the Statesman defending the city’s policy, saying Georgetown “did not set out to influence other energy providers or shakeup the state grid.”
Ross said Friday that “under market rules as defined in the market by ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission, Georgetown has 100 percent renewable energy.”
“Georgetown’s generation of wind and solar power continue to provide more energy, on an annual basis, than Georgetown consumes.”