Thursday, April 10, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Riley proposes goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

A resolution set for approval by Austin City Council members today would set a goal “of reaching net zero communitywide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050” – sooner if possible. The document, brought forward by Council Members Chris Riley and Bill Spelman and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, lays out a path to the establishment of the net-zero emission goal. It does not establish any specific greenhouse gas reductions.

 

Still, Riley told the Austin Monitor Wednesday afternoon that he believes the resolution will produce concrete results. When asked if the resolution would provide real change, Riley noted that he is “very hopeful about that.”

 

“We actually have been making good progress with our 2007 plan, and we certainly want those efforts to continue,” he added. “The idea with this resolution is just to make sure that we are setting meaningful goals that are in line with current science and with similar efforts that are ongoing in other leading cities around the world.”

 

Austin Energy’s coal-powered Fayette Power Plant remains a leading producer of greenhouse gasses. Though some officials and a spate of advocates have pushed for the shuttering of the facility, such action remains problematic for the utility. As the Monitor reported in February, the utility does back the retirement of the plant, but not until 2025.

 

Meanwhile, solar advocates have pushed the utility to increase its reliance on solar power. Utility officials, citing costs, have been reluctant to meet a call for nearly double the amount of solar generation issued by advocates. It’s all happening as a Generation Plan Task Force is set to meet to discuss whether to realign the utility’s generation plan. (See Austin Monitor, March 28)

 

Austin Energy Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Mele told the Monitor late Wednesday that the 2050 date of Riley’s resolution would likely come after the “life of the Fayette asset” and many of the other coal plants in current operation. She was also careful to note that, though renewables offer clear benefits, “they are not the only thing that keeps the lights on” and that the utility seeks a balance between resource costs in a competitive environment.

 

Riley’s resolution would instruct City Manager Marc Ott to “review the goals and objectives within the 2007 Austin Climate Protection Plan and work with stakeholders to create an action plan for each major sector (energy, transportation, and waste/industrial) responsible for the community-wide greenhouse gas emissions in Austin in order to meet the new long-term goal.”

 

The plan appears to target a sweeping approach, one that would “review the goals and objectives within the 2007 Austin Climate Protection Plan and work with stakeholders to create an action plan for each major sector (energy, transportation, and waste/industrial) responsible for the community-wide greenhouse gas emissions in Austin in order to meet the new long-term goal.”

 

In Wednesday’s interview, Riley suggested that Austin had fallen behind some of its peers in terms of climate protection. “With (the 2007) resolution, Austin became a national leader in the area of climate protection,” he said. “Many people in Austin have been very proud of the city’s role in climate protection and would like to see Austin maintain that leadership position.”

 

Riley also acknowledged the connection between Austin Energy and emissions. He pointed to the generation plan task force, calling it a “very important part of out climate protection plan” and noted that, “the idea with this resolution is that we will look to that ongoing process to figure out updated goals with respect to energy generation in Austin.”

 

He continued: “Meanwhile, there are also other sources of emissions that also warrant careful consideration.” There, Riley cited transportation, “the industrial sector,” and the city’s solid waste program.

 

Riley’s plan is set for action today. However, much of the agenda remains likely to be postponed if not dealt with quickly thanks to Council attendance at President Obama’s speech at the LBJ Library.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

City of Austin Climate Protection Plan: Austin Energy’s plan to make the city the lead in the fight against global warming. The plan’s goals included powering all city facilities with renewable energy by 2012 and making the city fleet carbon-neutral by 2020.

Fayette Power Plant: The coal-fired power plant co-owned by the City of Austin and the Lower Colorado River Authority.

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