Although the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the world’s thoughts, we look back now at important McLennan County climate stories of 2020. And we recognize that long after the pandemic has resolved, we will still face the challenge of climate breakdown.
Drought and flood risk. Climate change has pummeled McLennan County in recent years. The impacts peaked in 2018 with Waco’s highest recorded temperature of 114 degrees, associated with the highest drought level in the state and significant crop loss. Increased extreme downpours have submerged the Cotton Belt Trail and disc golf baskets in Woodway Park. And in October, FEMA made it official. The agency released its National Risk Index, which evaluated every county for 18 natural disasters through a holistic lens including social vulnerability and community resilience. McLennan County’s drought rating was “relatively high risk,” with expected annual agricultural losses of $1.7 million. Riverine flooding risk was also “relatively high,” with 2.8 projected episodes per year. Thus FEMA, with the government’s greatest disaster expertise, solidly confirmed the climate risk this area faces in terms of drought and extreme rainfall events.
City of Waco and the climate crisis. With gridlock at the federal level, states and cities have taken the lead in climate change mitigation. In Waco, this is a case of good news and bad news. In its most positive step, the city signed a contract to purchase 100% renewable energy for municipal buildings starting in 2022. In addition, one new fire station received rooftop solar panels, a couple of electric vehicles were purchased and one EV charging station is scheduled. In very bad news, the 2020-21 city budget unbelievably did not contain the words “climate change,” ”electric vehicle” or “solar panel.” Further, the Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board, a vital resource in this climate emergency, has held no meetings for one year, while other boards continue video conference sessions. Overall, it seems clear the Waco City Council does not grasp the need to prioritize sustained, robust action on climate that the science demands.
More climate education. 2020 witnessed wider educational efforts by climate activists, including EV participation in the Juneteenth parade (delighting the crowds), the second annual solar open house tour (virtually) and the fourth annual Climate Crisis Art Exhibit at climatecrisisartexhibit.org.
Renewable energy growth. The best — and most underrecognized — news of 2020 is the recent exuberant addition of renewable energy installations in the county. The following summary of these solar and wind farms is based on published information and visits to the sites.
Eddy II solar farm in Bruceville-Eddy, completed 2018, 10 megawatt (MW) capacity, for NRG Energy and Starbucks.
Griffin Solar in Robinson, completed 2019, 5 MW, for Oncor.
UPower solar farm near McGregor, full power estimated this month, 1 MW, supplying Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative.
CS Energy solar farm in unspecified part of McLennan County, completed, 7.3 MW for Oncor.
Prairie Hill Wind Farm in McLennan and Limestone counties near Mart, in testing phase, 300 MW, for Walmart.
Markum Solar Project site near China Spring, at the intersection of Markum Ranch Road and F.M. 1637, no construction yet observed, 161 MW, for Brazos Electric Power Cooperative.
In summary, this pandemic year has seen documentation of McLennan County’s drought and flood risk by the country’s premier disaster agency, a mixed record of climate action by the city of Waco and earnest education projects by citizens. Renewable energy, one of the most important climate crisis solutions, grew to include four solar farms plus one wind farm totaling 323 MW, and a proposed large solar farm would add an additional 161 MW. When all are producing, these facilities could power a remarkable 72,600 homes, with a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Although the scientific prognosis of climate change is grave, these successes of renewable energy engender hope in 2021.
Alan Northcutt (email@example.com) is a Waco physician and director of a climate action organization, Waco Friends of the Climate.