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Wednesday, June 21, 2017 by Sommer Brugal

Austin residents push for more aggressive energy goal

A number of concerned citizens gathered to speak at the Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee meeting Monday morning to express their frustration with Austin Energy’s updated Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan.

While the updated plan, which was written by a 16-member working group organized by the Electric Utility Commission, suggests a goal for renewables to account for 65 percent of the city’s energy portfolio by 2027, constituents urged the committee to adopt a goal of 75 percent renewable energy instead. Many said that with the effects we’ve already seen from climate change, Austin must adopt a more aggressive approach in order to successfully combat those consequences.

Much of the discussion came after Khalil Shalabi, Austin Energy’s vice president of energy market operations and resource planning, presented the working group’s recommendations.

Kaiba White, Solar Austin president and energy policy and outreach specialist at Public Citizen, was among those who opposed the 65 percent goal.

“At least 32 cities have committed to 100 percent renewable energy goals, and five have already achieved those goals,” White said. “If Austin wants to claim leadership on combating climate change, a commitment to 100 percent carbon-free energy is needed.”

White urged the committee to adopt a more aggressive plan, one that would include a 100 percent carbon-free energy goal for Austin Energy by 2030. She said changing the plan’s interim goal to 75 percent renewable energy by 2027 would put the utility on track to meet that goal.

According to Shalabi, the reason behind the 65 percent goal, as opposed to adopting a 75 percent goal, has to do with affordability, risks and flexibility.

“We’re on board with the recommendations of the working group to hit 65 percent; we just want to show the cost impacts moving forward,” said Shalabi.

Shalabi said those costs are represented in the plan’s long-term projections. Over the next 10 years, he said the net present value is about $42 million. He said that number, reflected in that aggregate time, would represent a 0.5 percent increase.

Still, the numbers presented confused a few committee members.

City Council Member Alison Alter asked if it was possible to see those costs implications over time. She said understanding the impacts in the long run could help the committee better comprehend the 65 percent versus 75 percent choice.

While pushing for a bolder renewables goal was the common sentiment among city residents, comments on other plan updates were positive.

The recommendations will be presented again for a public hearing on August 10.

Photo by Kuebi = Armin Kübelbeck (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Energy: As a municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy is a rarity in the largely deregulated State of Texas. It's annual budget clocks in at over $1 billion. The utility's annual direct transfer of a Council-determined percentage of its revenues offers the city a notable revenue stream.

Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee: The Austin City Council committee on Austin Energy was created in May 2013 to provide oversight of the city's electric utility. It's creation was marked by political maneuvering that ultimately resulted in a committee comprised of every member of the Austin City Council.

Resource Generation and Climate Protection Plan

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