Wednesday, June 20, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Council-mandated energy studies have already quietly begun

After clamoring from the public and a push from the Electric Utility Commission last month to have Austin Energy come back with the scopes of work for the list of required studies included in City Council’s ambitious renewable energy plan, the utility has provided a timeline.

Council’s plan requires Austin Energy to push to have 65 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2027 and to create models that would show what 75 and 80 percent renewable energy by 2027 would require and what achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 would look like. Although there has been no communication or fanfare as to the status of these studies up until now, Khalil Shalabi, the vice president of strategy, technology and markets at Austin Energy, came to the Electric Utility Commission on June 18 to explain that most of the studies have already begun.

“Most of these studies right now are in flight,” he said.

The list of in-progress studies falls into buckets that include local solar generation, emerging technology and energy storage, energy efficiency and demand response, conventional generation, and electric vehicles.

According to Shalabi, the only studies that have not begun are the renewable energy studies that are needed to understand the requirements for reaching the stretch goals that Council set for Austin Energy. “Our plan is to commence these studies leading into the 2019 summer months,” he said.

He said that all the studies will be complete either in early 2019 or by the September 2019 deadline that Council set.

Shalabi explained that although Austin Energy could technically begin the renewable energy studies now, it would gain more valuable data if it waited to include 2018’s predicted hot and dry weather in the data set. This upcoming summer is forecast to result in higher prices than Austin Energy has seen in a very long time. “If I do the studies today, I’ll have to do them again for the resource plan,” he said. He added that once started, the renewable energy goal studies will only take a couple of weeks to complete.

Commissioner Jim Boyle noted that it is not merely a question of if the studies will be completed on time. “The concern is about having some kind of milestones set soon, now,” he said. Indeed, six members of 350 Austin came once again to speak to the commission and Austin Energy about the status of the studies.

“I have not found reference to a tactical plan,” said Gil Starkey, a member of 350 Austin. “If such a plan does not exist, I submit that creating one should be Austin Energy’s top priority.”

Commissioner Susanne Vaughan also noted, “Of course the biggie is closing Fayette, and I’m wondering where that is.”

Shalabi explained that Austin Energy is currently in negotiations over the closure of the coal plant in Fayette County, but he could not disclose any information because of the competitive nature of the negotiations.

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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.

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.

Electric Utility Commission: The advisory body charged with oversight of Austin Energy, the City of Austin's municipally-owned electric utility.

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