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Austin Energy plan calls for more conservation, renewables by 2020

Monday, August 17, 2009 by Bill McCann

In a much-anticipated new electric-generation plan being unveiled this week, Austin Energy will propose putting even more emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energy and less on coal to meet the city’s future electric power needs.  

As a result, city energy officials believe Austin will further solidify its position nationally as a leader in energy conservation, renewable energy and in the reduction of greenhouse gases.

The plan, which spells out how Austin Energy intends to meet power demands by the year 2020, recommends that the city increase several key energy goals, including:

·       Energy efficiency, an additional 100 megawatts. The current goal is to save 700 megawatts of power, the equivalent of a power plant, by 2020. The energy-efficiency goal under the new plan would be 800 megawatts by 2020. This would be carried out by expanding existing energy-efficiency programs operated by the city and adding some new ones.

·       Solar energy, an additional 100 megawatts. The current goal calls for the city to derive 100 megawatts of power from residential, commercial and utility solar projects by 2020. The new goal would be 200 megawatts.

·       Renewable energy sources (solar, wind, biomass) would supply 35 percent of the city’s power needs by 2020 under the new plan, compared to 30 percent under the current plan. As part of the updated goal, the new plan calls for obtaining 1,000 megawatts of generating capacity from wind energy by 2020, compared to about 400 megawatts today. Also, the city would obtain an additional 50 megawatts of biomass-produced power. The utility currently has committed to 100 megawatts of biomass.

The City Council must approve these goals in order for them to take effect.

“While we believe we have the most aggressive energy conservation program in the country, we think we can squeeze more out of it,” said Austin Energy General Manager Roger Duncan. “Energy conservation is our number one priority. It is by far the cheapest alternative we have.” 

Besides counting more on energy conservation and renewables, the plan calls for the addition of 200 megawatts of new efficient natural gas generation, using a technology called combined-cycle, at Austin Energy’s Sand Hill Energy Center at Del Valle.

As a result of these clean-energy alternatives, Austin Energy expects greenhouse gases produced by its power production in 2020 to be 20 percent below 2005 levels, according to Duncan.

“Under the new plan, we will be able to rely less on the Fayette Power Project and the Decker plant, “Duncan said. “We see this as a first step to either closure, sale or modification of Fayette.”

The Fayette Power Project currently provides about 32 percent of Austin’s power needs, according to Duncan. Under the new plan, that figure would drop to 23 percent by 2020, he said.

The Fayette Power Project is a three-unit coal-fired plant located near La Grange. The first two units went into operation in 1979 and 1980. Austin Energy and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) jointly own units 1 and 2. LCRA operates and manages the Fayette project and owns the third power unit. The Decker Creek Power Station, located in Northeast Austin, is a city-owned gas-fired facility that first went into operation in the late 1960s.

The new plan would increase the bill of the average ratepayer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month by about 2 percent a year, or $21 a month over the 11-year period, Duncan said.

Plans call for Duncan to present the new plan to the Electric Utility Commission this evening, to the Resource Management Commission tomorrow, and to the Generation Resource Planning Task Force on Wednesday. He also is scheduled to present the plan to the City Council at an Aug. 26 work session as part of a big-picture discussion of Austin’s energy future. 

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