Friday, June 1, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

EUC asks Austin Energy to begin planning Council-mandated energy studies

It’s been nine months since City Council passed its ambitious renewable energy plan that 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.

Last month, citizens and members of 350 Austin requested that the Electric Utility Commission recommend to the city utility that these exploratory studies begin sooner rather than later. This month, the commission was wondering why there had been no communication as to the studies at all.

Although Austin Energy has until September 2019 to present the models for these various renewable energy plans, none of the 16 studies have begun. In response to the lack of information they’ve received about these studies, members of the commission at their May 21 meeting unanimously passed a recommendation asking Council to kick-start the process.

“We need some very basic updates on where we are on the generation plan goals themselves,” said Commissioner Karen Hadden. She explained that she was unaware of “who would be heading up the work, (or) who could we be in touch with.”

Commissioner Jim Boyle went beyond just asking for the basics, saying, “I would think given the amount of work that has to be done here, we ought to get started right away.”

However, Chair Cary Ferchill tempered the voices who were advocating that the studies begin as soon as possible. He noted that for the last three years, market prices have held steady, and this summer is the first one where Austin Energy will have a significantly larger portion of its energy from renewable resources. So far in 2018, utility customers consumed 40 percent of their energy from renewable sources compared with 36 percent from 2017 and 30 percent from 2016. Therefore, according to him, any studies are unlikely to show any changes before the summer is out.

“You don’t want to do the new studies too soon because you’ll get the same answer. It’s like the kids in the back of the car saying ‘Are we there yet?’” he said.

He noted that in addition to the market realities that would make waiting to commence the studies wise, Khalil Shalabi, the Austin Energy vice president of strategy and market operations, is scheduled to speak at the next commission meeting and give a list to recommend in which order the studies should be taken up. Ferchill suggested waiting until Shalabi gives his input because “he’s actually put a lot of thought into this stuff.”

Indeed, Shalabi told the Austin Monitor, “Some studies are in flight, some studies are about to start and others will start next year. We do most of these as part of our resource planning process, and they usually don’t take longer than a few months with a good amount of public engagement. The studies are due in 2019, and we are confident that we will get them all done on time.”

The commission conceded and unanimously passed a resolution to simply encourage Austin Energy to come back with scopes of work for the list of required studies included in the Council resolution.

Photo by Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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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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