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Update: Council motion to reconsider fails, business group reacts to new mandate

Friday, August 29, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Late Friday afternoon, Council Member Bill Spelman asked his colleagues to reconsider their actions on a resolution by Council Member Chris Riley that instructs Austin Energy to greatly increase their renewable resources — specifically solar — and work toward eliminating the Decker Creek Power Plant as a result of the city’s concern about greenhouse gas reductions.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, who was the second on Riley’s resolution Thursday night, made the motion to reconsider because of her colleague’s discomfort with the speed and method of the enactment of the resolution.

Spelman provided the second for that motion and Mayor Lee Leffingwell voted in favor. However, Council Members Riley, Mike Martinez and Laura Morrison voted no. It is clear that the item will be the topic of discussion with Austin Energy staff at the next Council Austin Energy Committee meeting.

Representatives of Austin’s electric utility and a business group that has worked to keep Austin Energy’s costs affordable also reacted to Thursday night’s decision to move forward with a large renewable goal despite the fact that many of those interested in the measure had already left the meeting.

Roger Wood of Freescale Semiconductor, chair of the Coalition for Clean Affordable and Reliable Energy or CCARE, made the following statement Friday:

“CCARE is very concerned in the actions of the Austin City Council last night with regards to item #157. CCARE had requested a 30-day delay to study the impact on ratepayers and we were on hand to testify to that until action was taken to postpone consideration of the item until noon Friday.

“We were shocked by the decision to take this item back up after our representatives and Austin Energy staff had left for the evening. We do not believe that this is how a board of directors for a municipally-owned utility should run a $3.8 billion asset.”

Wood noted that CCARE represent businesses and entitles that collectively “purchase more than 200 million kilowatt-hours of Green Choice energy annually.”

Austin Energy staff actively opposed the Riley resolution citing the difficulty of acquiring so much more solar power while at the same time trying to keep utility bills from rising more than 2 percent a year. (See Austin Monitor, Aug. 27 & Aug. 29)

Both Spelman and Martinez said it was inappropriate for Austin Energy to put out a news release opposing the resolution, as they did this week. Leffingwell said it was unusual but he declined to criticize the staff because he considered the situation so dire as to warrant their action.

Also Friday, Austin Energy spokesman Robert Cullick, told the Monitor, “We now have our marching orders. We’ve tried to tell folks that they would be difficult to achieve. We now have the task of balancing social equity goals, energy efficiency goals, operational goals and some of the most stringent renewable goals in the country. Everything we do has to be completed within a band width of a 2 percent rate increase. We told the Council it is very unlikely that those goals will be met on the schedule they’ve provided. We’ll be working with the Council and having discussions for the next several years.”

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