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Archive for August 18th, 2009

It has been less than 24 hours since I received a copy of Austin Energy’s Generation Plan recommendation and there’s a lot here to like.  Before I get to the highlights, let me just say that those of you who spoke up, filled out the survey, played the sim game and demanded more renewable energy, energy efficiency, less dependence on coal, your voice was heard!

Here are the highlights:

Energy Efficiency: Goal increases from 700 megawatts to 800 megawatts by 2020, a new study on energy efficiency potential will be conducted and AE will target “baseload” efficiency more (previously they had really gone after peak reduction with an emphasis on load-shifting).

Renewable Energy: Goal increases from 30% to 35%. Doesn’t seem like a lot but it is. By 2020 Austin Energy will have 1001 megawatts of wind, 200 megawatts of solar (double what the previous goal was) and 162 megawatts of biomass.  They had originally thought to seek an additional 100 MW of biomass on top of what AE already has coming from Nagocdoches in 2012, but decided to scale that back to 50 MW. Not a bad idea considering the limited resource in Texas.

Gas: An additional 200 MW of combined cycle at Sand Hill. The expansion of the plant will provide balancing services to variable renewable resources.

Nuclear: Keep STP 1 & 2. Still saying no to 3 & 4 (woo-hoo!). If someone makes them an offer to contract for the power (we hope it never gets built), they’ll evaluate it.

Coal: The increase in energy efficiency and renewable energy should enable AE to reduce the capacity factor of their share of Fayette coal plant to around 60%, “setting the stage for eventual sale or other disposition of Austin’s share of the plant” (from the AE recommendation). At last night’s Electric Utility Commission meeting, Duncan said currently it’s at about 85-90%.

CO2 plan: Emissions would be 20% below 2005 levels by 2020 (Waxman, Markey, you got that?).

Water use: Water use intensity of the utility’s generation sources reduces by 20% from 724 gallons/kWh to 574 gallons/kWh. Most of that would come from running Fayette smaller.

Other notes: AE will heavily go after solar resources within the city. Duncan estimated that there is roughly 3,000-4,000 MW of solar potential in the city (both for electricity and solar water heating). AE also would work to develop energy storage like compressed air energy storage-aka CAES (case).

We have tons of questions and we’re still analyzing the plan. But our first impression is: this is a pretty good plan but it can be improved.  Roger Duncan and his staff deserve recognition. At a time when other utilities in Texas are actually still building new coal plants (CPS Energy, LCRA), Austin Energy recognizes the need to get out of coal. To hear this acknowledged by the utility publicly is very positive, but City Council needs to make this a commitment. The goal should be to see Fayette closed… sooner rather than later.

Obviously, this plan comes with a price tag. Once we get the chance to ask more questions and analyze the plan and possible variations of it we’ll do a more in depth post.

We look forward to a healthy debate on this plan over the next few months. To all you Austinites who want a clean and more sustainable utility, keep urging city council to go beyond coal!

-Matt

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