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Austin Energy plans to purchase more wind energy

Friday, July 19, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

The Electric Utility Commission unanimously recommended the approval of a new energy contract that would bring Austin Energy’s percentage of renewable energy up to 61 percent by the middle of 2021. That is only 4 percentage points below the City Council-approved goal of generating 65 percent of the city’s energy from renewable sources by 2027.

“It sounds to me like we’re going to hit that (goal) early,” Commissioner Carrie Collier-Brown said at the July 15 meeting of the EUC.

In an email sent to the Austin Monitor from Erika Bierschbach, vice president of energy market operations, she explained that there is no guarantee Austin Energy will hit its renewable energy generation goal before the deadline. However, she wrote, “It is possible.”

Still, the commissioners applauded the plan to purchase an additional 200 megawatts of wind-generated energy each year.

The new project will be a power purchase agreement with Raymond Wind Farm, with construction planned in the Gulf Coast region, where the majority of Austin’s wind farms are located. Austin Energy also owns three wind farms in North Texas up into the Panhandle.

Bierschbach said that while the price of renewables has come down considerably, purchasing the power plant outright is not the most prudent approach. “It’s in our customers’ best interest to enter into the power purchase agreements,” she said. She clarified that there is always the option to purchase the power generation facility if the economics change during the course of the 12-year contract.

Commissioner Karen Hadden pointed out that bird fatalities are one of the major concerns associated with wind power, particularly in the coastal flyway migration path. She suggested that as part of the contract agreement, Austin Energy work to implement voluntary policies to monitor bird migrations through radar and temporarily shut down the turbines when a large flock is passing through the wind farm.

Austin Energy, however, does not have the ability to enforce that condition contractually as it is purchasing power from the plant and is not involved in daily operations or the development of the wind farm.

Like all energy in Austin, the wind energy the utility will purchase, should Council approve the contract, will be sold to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas grid. Austin Energy will then purchase energy off the ERCOT grid at the optimal price, which will pass directly to city residents.

With eight years left for the utility to reach the goal of generating 65 percent of its energy from renewable sources, Hadden said this was a step in the right direction. “I’m glad to see us pursuing wind,” she said.

Photo by Jason Jacobs made available through a Creative Commons license.

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