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Coalition urges support for Austin Energy generation plan

Thursday, February 18, 2010 by Michael Kanin

A broad coalition of local businesses, Austinites, and non-profit organizations has announced its support for Austin Energy’s Resource and Climate Protection Plan and the accompanying recommendations made by the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force. The group, which united under the moniker Clean Energy for Austin, says that it supports the plan “because of its emphasis on renewable energy and efficiency, green jobs creation, and (its) careful consideration of Austin’s low-income residents.”


The coalition expects wide support for its issue from the Austin City Council. It also noted that Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell anticipates a vote on the matter to come as early as March. Leffingwell has already scheduled a town hall meeting for Feb. 22.


The Resource and Climate Protection Plan is the result of a 2007 Austin City Council resolution that instructed city officials to develop a plan of action that would magnify Austin’s green profile. The generation plan includes a goal of reducing Austin’s carbon production to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. In addition to the plan outlined by Austin Energy General Manager Roger Duncan, the task force asked Council to consider nine other suggestions. These include a recommendation that the plan be reviewed every two years.


The speakers at Clean Energy for Austin’s inaugural press conference whole-heartedly embraced that provision. In their remarks, these representatives also echoed their organization’s statement of support.


Matthew Johnson, a clean energy advocate for the group Public Citizen, cited flexibility of the plan. “It’s important to recognize that this plan is a roadmap,” he said. “If one energy resource is more expensive than we thought it would be five to seven years from now, we’ll have the ability to change this thing. We wouldn’t have that opportunity if Austin were stuck building a new coal plant or a new nuclear plant.”


Johnson also served on the task force.


Sunshine Mathon, the Design and Development director of Foundation Communities, addressed the energy efficiency component of the plan. “The Energy Plan and the task force recommendations represent a continued investment in the cheapest form of energy—conservation-based reductions,” he said.


Mathon sees the plan as well suited to serve the needs of the low-income housing community his organization represents. “Ideally those (reductions) then also target folks who actually benefit the most from (them),” he added.


Lou Snead, a member of the steering committee of the Interfaith Environmental Network of Austin, said that his organization was impressed with the plan. “They did a good job looking at all of the issues,” he said.


Still, the network had at least one concern with the plan. Though Snead said that he was “pleased to see that there were measures” inserted into the plan to “mitigate” it’s potential impact on low income families, he felt that there was more that could be done. He added that the two-year review component of the plan offered the city a regular opportunity to address how it could further “lessen that impact.”


Steve Taylor, the North American Government Affairs Manager for Applied Materials, represented the Austin business community. He spoke about the economic impact of the Plan.


“Electricity isn’t cheap and it’s not going to get cheap,” he said. “You need to keep your options open and manage it efficiently. This plan will do that.”


Taylor added that the plan should also be “seen as helping with economic development.” “Solar has a lot of potential to create jobs, as do other renewable industries. That’s the kind of thing that we should be focusing on as well,” he said.


When prompted, Cyrus Reed of the Sierra Club shot down the efficacy of an alternative energy solution that might keep energy costs lower over the next decade. For that plan, Reed said that officials would have to ignore the Council’s request that 30 percent of the city’s electricity come from renewable sources.


“If we chose not to meet the 30 percent goal, but instead do something else like add only natural gas to meet our needs, it would be fairly flat in costs over the next 10 years,” said Reed. “But everyone anticipates that the price of natural gas and the price of coal is going to go up. And so you’re not investing in your future if you stick with our present generation course.”


After the coalition made public remarks, Colin Meehan of Environmental Defense Fund told In Fact Daily that Clean Energy for Austin anticipates success when its issue comes before the City Council. “(In) at least the conversations that I’ve had with Council, they like this,” he said. “Now that they’ve had a chance to look at everything and take some time and take a lot of public input…they’re very optimistic.”


He added that, though the plan is a compromise, his group is happy. “Are there things that I’d like to see more of? Maybe energy efficiency, maybe some more environmental stuff,” he said. “But in general I think it’s a really sound plan.”


In response to the press conference favoring the plan, the business coalition known as CCARE was emailing the Council to ask for greater affordability and projecting huge increases in electric bills for big businesses such as Samsung five years from now. Such customers have long-term contracts with Austin Energy that prevent base rate increases before 2015.

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