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Renewable sources now more than a fourth of Austin Energy portfolio

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Austin Energy officials announced the completion of two wind power plants in the coastal region of the Rio Grande Valley Monday. The event marks an important milestone for utility costumers: With the juice now on at those facilities, ratepayers are purchasing about one out of every four kilowatt hours from renewable sources.


The purchase power agreements for the energy derived from the plants were completed roughly 16 months ago. The facilities, located outside of Laredo and near Harlingen, are owned by Exelon and Duke Energy.


Veteran Austin Energy watchdog Paul Robbins told In Fact Daily late Monday afternoon that the projects will produce energy at “a good price.” Robbins added that he hopes the new farms will help drive prices for Austin Energy’s Green Choice program down.


“I am…very hopeful that this new wind contract will lower the rates for Green Choice subscribers,” said Robbins, who noted that he is a Green Choice subscriber.


According to the utility, the new projects will produce nearly 294 combined megawatts of energy. The bulk of that figure will come from the Los Vientos II project, owned by Duke Energy. Los Vientos will provide 201.6 megawatts. That number represents the largest wind power purchase in Austin Energy’s portfolio.


The smaller Exelon project – called Whitetail – will produce 92.3 megawatts. Austin Energy officials say that they will purchase power from both Los Vientos and Whitetail for the next 25 years.


In a written statement Austin Energy General Manager Larry Weis pointed to wind power as a currently attractive purchase for the utility. “Wind is currently one of the cheapest and cleanest forms of generation we can invest in and we were able to significantly increase our renewable portfolio without jeopardizing our affordability goals.”


Robbins told In Fact Daily that the coastal area locations of the facilities should provide for more reliable production than the utility’s West Texas wind farms. He noted that during Austin Energy’s high summer peak, the western facilities don’t see as much wind, and therefore produce much less energy. Los Vientos II is just 20 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico and will produce energy in the daytime, when demand is generally higher.


The addition of the two new facilities brings the total amount of wind-generated power in Austin Energy’s portfolio to 851 megawatts. The growth of renewable sources in the utility’s portfolio is the result of a Council mandate to generate 35 percent of its portfolio from renewable resources by 2020. With the addition of the wind farms, Austin Energy will get 27 percent of its power from renewable sources.


According to a release from Duke about their facility, Austin Energy will receive “all of the output” from the Los Vientos II project. San Antonio’s municipally owned electric utility, CPS Energy, gets 200 megawatts from a sister Duke effort called Los Vientos I. Like Austin Energy, CPS has a 25 year agreement with Duke.

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