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Austin Energy to operate community solar project

Monday, October 13, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Austinites who want to use solar power but cannot install solar panels will soon be able to draw from a community pool of solar energy.

A new project to be operated by Austin Energy will allow electric customers who cannot afford to install individual solar panels or live in a home where panels are not possible to tap into a common source of solar energy.

At their last meeting, Austin City Council members gave Austin Energy permission to negotiate a power purchase agreement with a local provider to receive up to 3.2 megawatts of solar power over the next 25 years. Officials say the deal would cost up to $13 million over that time span.

Austin Energy officials are negotiating with Austin-based based PowerFin Texas Solar Projects, but could consider other companies for the project.

Utility officials say the project helps meet the needs of many in the community who want to participate in a solar program but are not able to install solar panels on their roofs. Those who live in apartments, downtown condominium high-rises or homes shaded by trees will be able to use renewable solar energy through this program.

Austin Energy will construct the community solar project adjacent to its Kingsbery substation, northeast of Springdale Road and Airport Boulevard.

Debbie Kimberly, the utility’s vice president of Customer Energy Solutions, told Council that the company is confident the neighborhood will welcome the project.

“This is something that the community — and frankly, even the surrounding community — would find attractive, in large part because the area would be fenced and there is a transient population in that area,” she added. “So the neighbors in that area have said that it would certainly be something that would enhance the surrounding community.”

Officials say the cost of the energy produced will be lower because the project will be built on land owned by Austin Energy, with distribution and substation infrastructure are already in place.

Kimberly said the cost of rooftop solar energy, using rooftop panels, is at about 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour. She told Council members that, once a deal is in place, energy from this project should cost consumers about half that much.

Austin Energy estimates that the project will be online in summer 2015.

The project will be one of more than 50 in 17 states referred to as shared renewables or community solar. Public power utilities in states such as Arizona, California and Washington have community solar programs similar to what Austin Energy is planning.

Utility officials say they expect to develop more local community solar sites to meet demand as more customers sign up for the program.




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