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Riley, Tovo resolutions push AE energy agenda

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

City Council will vote on two energy resolutions this week that would direct the City Manager to task Austin Energy with starting the process for implementing recommendations from the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force’s July report, despite the utility’s reservations about its overall affordability.

The items are listed on the addendum to Thursday’s regular City Council Meeting agenda. Since the addendum was released Monday, Council will not be allowed to discuss the items during today’s work session. This is in order to comply with the Texas Open Meeting Act’s requirement that discussion items be posted for at least 72 hours before a scheduled meeting.

Council Member Chris Riley wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions primarily by proposing new renewable energy goals. Council Member Kathie Tovo intends to reduce overall energy usage primarily by proposing new energy efficiency requirements.

The goals in both resolutions are contingent upon meeting the affordability goals that Council set in 2011, which require that Austin Energy keep its rates among the lowest 50 percent in Texas and annual average bill increases at 2 percent or less.

Austin Energy released a preliminary response to the task force’s report last Friday, stating that it’s “not an analytic document.”

Austin Energy spokesperson Robert Cullick provided a written follow-up to the Austin Monitor on Monday. “We are studying the Generation Task Force proposals,” he said. “Until we have the facts and have done the math, we cannot advise the Council on what impact the resolutions, if adopted, would have on ratepayers and the Council goal of affordability.”

Austin Energy plans to present its results to Council this fall (See Austin Monitor, Aug. 25).

Riley’s resolution would direct the City Manager to develop, implement and present an annual report to City Council on the progress of numerous goals, some of which are based on task force recommendations.

These include setting an accelerated solar energy procurement goal of 600 megawatts to replace the output of power from Decker Creek Power Station and increasing the 2020 goal for local solar power from 100 to 200 megawatts.

Riley provided a written statement about his resolution to the Austin Monitor on Monday. “This is an opportunity to make Austin Energy the greenest municipally owned utility in the country,” he said.

Referring to the Decker goal, Riley noted that “by replacing the single largest point of pollution in Austin with clean, renewable energy, we can improve our air quality, protect against future increases in fuel costs and take an important step in the fight against climate change.”

Riley emphasized the resolution’s acknowledgment of affordability goals. He added that “for the first time in history, renewable energy is now cost-competitive and potentially even cheaper than fossil fuels.”

According to a Facebook event page titled “Affordable Energy for Austin Rally,” there will be a rally in support of this resolution today at noon in front of City Hall. The page lists Riley’s Executive Assistant Ian Davis as a host.

Tovo’s resolution would direct the City Manager to create policies consistent with 2009 and 2014 task force recommendations. These include the 2014 task force goal of changing the energy efficiency demand reduction goal from 800 megawatts to 1200 megawatts by 2024.

The resolution would also direct the City Manager to create demand reduction and energy efficiency programs for low-to-moderate income customers. It would establish a Low Income Consumer Advisory Task Force to explore and make recommendations regarding potential policies.

In a Monday interview, Tovo explained why she proposed the resolution. “I believe that it’s important that we guide our energy by the values of the community in terms of our generation portfolio,” she said. “We need sound investments as well as aggressive goals if we really want to get to where we want to be as a city.”

Tovo also addressed the potential costs and benefits of the resolution. “Energy efficiency is really our most cost-effective option, and we should consider it an extremely high priority for our utility,” she said. “Making these investments means that we’re not investing in power plants or purchased power agreements.”

Tovo added that the city should invest in energy efficiency at all income levels. “It’s not only great for the utility, it has a direct impact on customers’ bills,” she said. “Making sure that all members of our community are benefiting is really important.”

Tovo and Riley will face one another to represent District 9 on the Nov. 4 ballot.

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