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Friday, March 27, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns
Council approves update to Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan
In spite of a slew of public speakers requesting that City Council postpone a vote on the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection plan due to a lack of public engagement, Council voted to approve the update to the plan for 2030.
The Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan is a 10-year road map that sets Austin Energy’s energy efficiency goals and climate protection objectives. The document outlines how the energy utility will strive to meet Council’s strategic climate protection goal of reducing carbon emissions within the city.
Two and a half years ago when Council voted to update the protection plan to extend to 2027, the body heard from a large number of citizens who maxed out the capacity of Council chambers and overflowed from the lobby at City Hall. This time around, citizens said the public engagement was not nearly robust enough.
“There is no good excuse for the lack of inclusion,” Kaiba White of Public Citizen Texas said over the phone at Council’s virtual meeting on Thursday. She said people of color, women and younger Austinites were “dramatically underrepresented” in the creation of the plan.
Resolutions from both the Electric Utility Commission and the Resource Management Commission unanimously supported the plan, but included four additional requests, including three asking Council to investigate the equity of the process and ensure the 2030 plan does not disproportionately affect vulnerable or minority communities.
The latest plan Council voted into effect extends to 2030 and aims to have all generation resources producing carbon-free energy by 2035. It also specifies that Austin Energy will eliminate its existing carbon-emitting energy facilities and no longer purchase, contract or build carbon or nuclear generation resources.
Jeff Glass, a local activist, called the approach “timid” and “conservative,” noting that the updated plan conflicts with the framework for the Green New Deal.
Council unanimously approved a resolution last May supporting the Green New Deal, which calls for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
According to the resolution Council passed, Austin Energy will update the plan in five years, if not sooner. Significant changes in available technology or market conditions will prompt an early update.
The current update to the plan passed on Council’s consent agenda with Council members Natasha Harper-Madison, Greg Casar and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza abstaining. “I’m inclined to abstain only because of the concerns that I’ve heard,” Garza said.
Speakers pointed out that the joint meeting between the two commissions on March 9 resulted in discord among stakeholders about the level of public participation in the process. White noted that the conversation illustrated that “older white men had an outsized voice.”
Cyrus Reed, who sits on the Electric Utility Commission, told Council, “We’re all collectively at fault that we didn’t do a better job at public process.”
“The community and stakeholders are being left out and left behind,” said Kelsey Vizzard, an organizer with the Austin branch of the Sunrise Movement. She told Council members that members of her organization were “ignored” or “disrespected” each time they showed up at public engagement opportunities. The resulting plan, she pointed out, does not take into account a sufficient variety of voices to offer a comprehensive perspective on how Austin should pursue energy generation. “We know that it could still be better,” she said.
This story has been changed since publication to reflect the fact that Council Member Greg Casar abstained from the vote on the plan.
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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.