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Council, EUC fill most seats on city’s Generation Plan Task Force

Friday, March 28, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members and their appointees on the city’s Electric Utility Commission Thursday filled the majority of the seats on a task force set up to complete the first review of Austin Energy’s 2010 Generation Plan. That document, a plan that governs Austin Energy’s generation purchases up through 2020, is a key point of discussion as the city debates just how big a role renewables should play – and at what cost.


Council’s appointees are decidedly consumer and renewable advocate heavy. Renewable advocates include the Sierra Club’s Cyrus Reed, Public Citizen’s Tom “Smitty” Smith and solar advocate Mike Sloan. Texas ROSE’s Carol Biedrzycki represents consumers, especially low income consumers. Others appointed were former Austin Energy special assistant to the GM Michael Osborne, and architect Michele Van Hyfte. Van Hyfte is manager of environmental stewardship at the Seton Healthcare Family.


Mayor Lee Leffingwell appointed Spansion engineer Barry Dreyling last week.


Meeting in a special called session, the members of the Electric Utility Commission appointed EUC Commissioner Clay Butler. Butler heads his own law firm, which he touts as a renewable energy law firm.


The Resource Management Commission, the body with the final appointee to the task force has not yet acted to place someone on the Generation Plan Task Force.


The task force is like another that Council members established in 2009 to vet the original plan. It will go over resource purchasing goals for a plan that will run through 2024.


Council members created the task force at their March 6 meeting. In back-to-back paragraphs, the resolution that gives the task force its power cited both ecological and cost concerns. “The generation plan 2020 set many goals, including that Austin Energy meet 35 percent  of its energy load using renewable resources and that the utility reduce total demand by at least 800 (megawatts) between 2007 and 2020,” it says.


In addition, members are reminded that “The City Council adopted an affordability goal for Austin Energy…to operate in such a way as to limit rate increases…to 2 percent per year, and for AE to maintain competitive rates within the lower 50 percent among benchmark cities.”


The two statements could present the major conundrum for the task force. Solar advocates have been pushing Austin Energy to increase the amount of solar power it purchases. Austin Energy maintains that the costs of such a program would drive up system-wide costs.


Smith and Sloan have been vocal proponents of increased solar purchases. Reed’s goal is to end Austin’s participation in the Fayette coal-fired power plant. Biedrzycki has been critical of utility fiscal policies, often questioning the sufficiency of its customer assistance programs.

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