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Energy Task Force recommends new goals for power generation

Monday, November 9, 2009 by Austin Monitor

At a final work session last week, the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force approved a scenario, crafted by Austin Energy staff, that they believe best suits the utility’s future needs—including higher goals for energy efficiency and renewable energy and no new commitment to coal or nuclear power.


The staff plan, which spells out how Austin Energy intends to meet power demands by the year 2020, recommends that the city increase several key 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 task force separately voted to expand energy efficiency to 1000 MW and expand use of solar power beyond what the staff had recommended.

In addition, the group added a proviso stating that in two years the city should re-evaluate whether it could accelerate closure of Austin’s coal-powered Fayette Power Plant by 2020. As written, without the proviso, the staff scenario foresees possibly ramping down the plant to 60 percent capacity by 2020 (it is currently at about 85 percent). The plant is responsible for 70 percent of AE’s carbon emissions.


Asked about concerns that the city’s push for more renewable forms of energy will drive up costs and adversely effect low-income residents, Chair Phillip Schmandt said the group’s recommendations would have “the lowest impact on bills than any of the other ones that were considered by the task force.”


“What we’re doing here is protecting against price increases that would be attributable to the volatility of natural gas, legislative regulatory changes on carbon emissions, and the cost of renewable energy,” he said. “And among those three types of risks, we tried to spread the risk out as much as possible to avoid any one of those severely impacting costs and low-income residents.”


Austin Energy General Manager Roger Duncan said, “Energy conservation is our number one priority. It is by far the cheapest alternative we have.” 

Five members of the task force voted for the plan, while three members voted for a scenario that included less reliance on renewable energy and conservation. Renewable advocate Mike Sloan disagreed with both positions, holding out for his own plan.


Those voting for the majority plan were Phillip Schmandt, Chair of the Electric Utility Commission as well as the task force; Chris Herbert, chair of the Resource Management Commission; Cary Ferchill of Solar Austin, Cyrus Reed of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and Matt Johnson of Public Citizen.


Those opposing the majority plan were Ron Rogerson of Spansion, John Sutton of the Business Managers and Owners Association and Roger Wood of Freescale.


After the meeting, Schmandt pointed out that these recommendations could change in the future. Schmandt said, “There’s going to be a lot more time to adjust in the future when we learn more—but that’s what we’re doing, we’re making a business plan. And like any good business plan, you adjust it going forward based on what you learn.”


Wednesday’s approval of recommendations ended the task force’s mandate; it had been meeting weekly since mid-July. The recommendations will go before the Electric Utility Commission and the Resource Management Commission on Nov. 16 and 17 before going to City Council for a vote in December.


The group also unanimously approved a list of recommendations on how the city and Austin Energy should make future decisions about electricity generation.


That list of recommendations outline processes designed to ensure public transparency and participation in any future energy generation plan. Those processes include a reassessment of the generation plan every two years, a requirement that whenever there is an acquisition of new generation beyond 10 megawatts the decision go through at least two City Council meetings (barring an emergency), and that Austin Energy should adopt a goal of creating a self-sustaining market for distributed renewable generation, adding at least 300 megawatts of renewable generating capacity by 2020.


The task force also made a recommendation related to the Austin Climate Protection Plan, that by 2020 Austin Energy’s carbon emissions be 20 percent lower than they were in 2005.


The future generation plan is unrelated to a cost of service study that Austin Energy intends to do in 2011 in anticipation of a rate case in 2012. The 2011 study will include only the current cost of generating and distributing electricity.

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