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Council backs creation of new power generation task force

Friday, March 7, 2014 by Michael Kanin

City Council members Thursday approved the creation of a new Austin generation planning task force. The group, as yet unnamed, will “examine and make recommendations regarding the 2014 update to Austin Energy’s current Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo was the lead sponsor on the item that created the task force. She told her colleagues that she sees the organization as one that will exist for “a very short, but very focused time period.”


Council Members Laura Morrison and Bill Spelman cosponsored the item. It passed 6-0 with Mayor Lee Leffingwell away on city business.


Before the vote, Council members heard from a parade of solar advocates. They each supported the creation of the task force – a body that could well offer solar supporters another chance to convince the city and Austin Energy to include more sun power as it revisits the generation plan.


After the vote, David Cortez of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, released the following statement: “Public participation is always a win-win in our book. Today, the people of Austin and Central Texas communities impacted by climate disruption won a major procedural victory for clean energy, transparency and good governance. This task force will provide environmental, low-income, renewable energy and industry stakeholders their best opportunity to review Austin Energy’s approach and set a clear path for making Austin a leader in the clean energy economy.


Council members passed the generation plan in 2010. At the time, it was considered a vanguard-level document, complete with ambitious renewable resource goals. It also came with a promise of periodic reviews, designed to tune the plan in accordance with ever-changing energy markets.


As part of those efforts, Council members empanelled a 2009 task force to offer suggestions about the generation plan. It met for five months and included consumer and environmental advocates, as well as then-sitting members of the city’s Electric Utility and Resource Management Commissions.


Ultimately, the utility embraced a handful of recommendations from the task force – Including a 35 percent renewable energy generation goal by 2020 – but rejected others. Meanwhile, the amount of solar energy that the utility can afford to make part of its generation plan remains a matter of debate. Solar advocates last year pushed Austin Energy to double its goal for solar power from 200 to 400 megawatts by 2020 – a recommendation offered by another task force, this one convened to discuss solar power.


Austin Energy officials and a consultant hired by the city maintain that such a move could prove very costly.


Council members are set to discuss the membership of the new generation task force on March 18. Once empanelled, the group would have until June 30 to complete its work. Council members are set to complete their refresh of the generation plan by December of this year. That timeline would not allow for input from members of the new 10-1 Council on the matter.


As part of their action Thursday, Council members approved an amendment from Tovo that enshrines affordability as a key consideration in any adjustment made to the generation plan. Council Member Mike Martinez drove that point home.


“What gets lost a lot of times out in the community – especially with folks who don’t pay attention to the details of what we do – sometimes the affordability equation is omitted,” he said. “No one here is proposing that we not keep our eye on that target of making sure that our utility is as affordable as it can be.”

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