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Wynn to meet with presidential campaign advisors on energy policy

Thursday, August 14, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Austin Mayor Will Wynn is in New York today, joining dozens of other mayors from around the country for the Mayor’s ’08 Action Forum on Infrastructure. As part of the conference, hosted by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mayor Wynn will speak with campaign advisors to both Barack Obama and John McCain about energy infrastructure.

 

“Americans are now feeling the first wave of economic pain coming from our lack of a coherent, comprehensive national energy policy,” the Mayor said in a statement issued by his office on Wednesday. “What we’re seeing is local governments and private entrepreneurs leading the way, but ultimately these efforts and innovations need the right infrastructure in place in order to deliver on their full potential.”

 

The meeting in New York is one of five Action Forums organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Other meetings in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami will focus on issues ranging from crime to cultural development to the environment. “These are issues of vital importance to cities across the country and more importantly, the people who live in them,” said Miami Mayor Manny Diaz in announcing the forums earlier this summer. “The purpose of these forums is to forge a plan of action for America’s cities for the next president.”

 

Wynn was chosen to speak on energy infrastructure needs at this week’s conference because of his position as the Chair of the Energy Committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and because of the success of the wind power industry in Texas. Along with the latest developments in wind power, Wynn plans to tell the advisors for Obama and McCain about some of Austin Energy’s efforts to secure other renewable sources of energy, including the biomass plant in east Texas that is currently being discussed.

 

“Across the country, local economies are being hammered by rising costs for traditional fossil-fuel electricity, costs that are projected to climb at increasing rates in the coming years,” Wynn said. “Leaders are eager to hear about our effort to diversify our fuel sources and insulate our rate-payers from these price spikes through judicious long-term agreements.”

 

Back in Austin on Wednesday, officials with Austin Energy and Nacogdoches Power held a town hall meeting to discuss the city’s proposed $2.3 deal to add a biomass-generated power plant to the city’s generating capacity.

 

About 100 people gathered at City Hall to meet with Austin Energy General Manager Roger Duncan and Nacogdoches Power Vice President Tony Callendrello. Duncan outlined Austin Energy’s charge from the Council to develop 30 percent renewable energy in its power generation mix by 2020.

 

“Biomass is important to that formula because, in addition to being renewable, it is also available on a constant basis,” he said. “Our experience with wind is that it’s available about 30 to 40 percent of the time, and solar is about the same. But we expect the 100 MW from the biomass plant to be available around 90 percent of the time.”

 

Callendrello talked about the specifics of the biomass plant, which will be located in Sacul in Nacogdoches County in East Texas. In addition to its being essentially carbon-neutral, it will benefit from a projected abundance of fuel, which will be mainly logging residue and waste products from the nearby wood mills. He estimated that the plant would use about 1 million tons of biofuels each year, and that within 75 miles of the plant, there would be about 2.5 million tons available.

 

After the presentation, the two took questions from the audience. Many of those asking questions expressed concerns over the $2.3 billion price tag. Duncan explained that a large amount of that total was for construction costs, and that Austin Energy would not be going into debt to finance the project.

 

“The contractor is taking on the risk,” he said. “We are not selling any bonds or putting up money for this. And once it is operating, it is the contractor’s job to deliver the electricity. If they don’t deliver any electricity, we don’t pay anything.”  

 

Some questioners were concerned that the city was rushing into the project. SOS Director Bill Bunch said that – given the city’s history of problems with energy plants – shouldn’t it have taken more time to study biomass before committing to the project?

 

Duncan noted that the city had studied several independent papers on biomass and had done its homework.

 

“We have a fairly narrow window in which to operate,” he said. “And it’s an important part of the city’s plan to have 30 percent renewable in our energy mix by 2020.”

 

The Council will consider the contract for the biomass plant at its Aug. 21 meeting.

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