Posts Tagged ‘low income residents’

Janis and Evan Bookout speaking in support of renewable energy to protect the climate (Photo courtesy of Al Braden, www.albradenphoto.com)

Yesterday morning, Austinites took time out of their day to show up at City Hall and let the Austin City Council know that we expect real leadership when it comes to adopting an updated Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan.  Many joined us in a call for carbon-free by 2030, and 75% renewable energy by 2027 goals.  The other common theme we are supporting is the need for additional programs to make the benefits of distributed solar accessible to low-income residents, renters and those in multifamily housing.

Join us at the public hearing on August 10 to call for a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy, while improving equity.

This process started last November with the creation of the Electric Utility Commission Resource Planning Working Group (which was partially appointed by Austin Energy).  But after months of meetings, the working group recommendations (which have been endorsed by Austin Energy) fall well short of leadership on either climate protection or energy equity.  The recommendations call for only 65% renewable energy by 2027, limited or no increases for energy efficiency, local solar and energy storage goals, and no solid commitments to improve access to distributed solar.

Thankfully, the Austin City Council is the board of directors for Austin Energy, so we all get a chance to weigh in with our elected officials to call for a plan that represents Austin values – doing right by our planet and our neighbors

That’s what the public hearing is for, so please mark your calendar.

At least 32 U.S. cities have committed to a 100 percent renewable energy goal and 5 have already achieved this goal.  If Austin is to claim leadership on combating climate change, a commitment to 100% carbon-free energy is needed.  This, of course, implies that all of Austin Energy’s fossil fuel generators would need to be retired.  That would include the natural gas-fired power plants at Decker Creek and Sand Hill, both located on the east side of Austin.  This would improve air quality in the city and end our utility’s contribution to fracking, which is responsible for groundwater contamination, air pollution (including methane – a powerful greenhouse gas), earthquakes and destroyed roads in Texas and other states.  With all of these harmful side effects of energy production, it is those with the fewest options and opportunities – those with the least among us – who are hardest hit.  It’s on all of us – as Austinites – to stop contributing to these negative outcomes as quickly as possible.

Daniel Llanes, of PODER – People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources, speaking in support of a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy to protect the climate; and for greater and more diverse public input (Photo courtesy of Al Braden, www.albradenphoto.com)

As we transition to clean energy, we can and should ensure that the benefits flow to everyone in our community.  As the price of solar energy has increased, more residents and businesses are going solar to reduce their bills and their impact on the environment. There is now financing available for those who can’t pay up front, making solar accessible to middle-income residents.  That’s good news, but solar has still been out of reach for those with poor credit, renters and those living in multifamily housing (either apartments or condominiums).  Making solar accessible for these populations is challenging, but utilities, governments and non-profits around the country are digging in to find solutions.  San Antonio’s CPS Energy already has a successful solar program, called Solar Host, which is accessible to low-income residents.  What we want is for Austin Energy to take on these challenges and embrace new solutions.  Local solar goals should be expanded and incentive budgets maintained to make solar an option for Austinites at all income levels and in all types of housing.

If these ideas speak to your values, please come to the public hearing on August 10 to speak your mind.

Goals are only useful if they are high enough to spur innovation and action beyond what is already happening.  We want Austin to be ambitious in taking on climate change and equity.

Here’s what we’re asking for (3rd column):


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Photo Courtesy of Donna Hoffman at the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. Thanks Donna!

Dozens of businesses and nonprofit organizations as well as more than 200 citizens have formed Clean Energy for Austin, a coalition whose purpose is to push Austin City Council to adopt a clean energy plan. Specifically, the coalition supports the passage of Austin Energy’s Resource and Climate Protection Plan and recommendations of a city task force created to examine the plan. Coalition members support the plan because of its emphasis on renewable energy and efficiency, green jobs creation and careful consideration of Austin’s low-income residents.

To date, more than 70 businesses, 18 non-profit organizations and more than 200 individuals have signed on in support of the energy plan through www.cleanenergyforaustin.org.

The energy plan is a road map for how Austin Energy, the city-owned electric utility, will meet the city’s energy needs over the next 10 years. It includes a substantial investment in energy efficiency and a variety of renewable energy resources like wind and solar, as well as new more efficient natural gas plants. In addition to diversifying its generation portfolio, Austin Energy wants to create a self-sustaining market for renewable technologies like solar rooftops and parking lots by 2020.

“A good business practice is to keep your options open when selecting suppliers,” said Steve Taylor of Applied Materials, a semiconductor manufacturer employing more than a thousand Austinites. “This plan allows for a diversity of different energy options, so it protects businesses – and residents – from long-term price spikes for any single power source because other energy supply options will be available and abundant. This plan also enhances Austin’s efforts to create green businesses and green jobs for years to come.”

The plan is the culmination of a nearly two-year public process of gathering input from multiple stakeholder groups, including businesses, environmental organizations, and groups serving low-income communities. Four representatives from the mayor’s Generation and Resource Planning Task Force, which analyzed more than a dozen scenarios of where Austin could get its power by 2020, are members of the coalition: Phillip Schmandt, chairman of Electric Utility Commission, Cary Ferchill, chair of Solar Austin, as well as non-profit members Public Citizen and Sierra Club.

“The great thing about the plan is its flexibility,” said Matthew Johnson, clean energy advocate with Public Citizen. “If costs for any resource type rise or fall dramatically over the next 10 years, Austin Energy would have the ability to change the plan, and do so with the help of community stakeholders. That’s the beauty of a diverse portfolio of resources. If Austin were locked into building a new coal or nuclear plant, our fate would be sealed.”

Energy efficiency, generally recognized as the cheapest energy resource, would be the main component of the plan. Austin Energy would take a more proactive and coordinated approach to reach low-income households with free weatherization to help lower their electric bills.

“Low-income communities need the most help with paying utility bills,” said Sunshine Mathon, design and development director of Foundation Communities, an Austin-based nonprofit affordable housing organization. “Austin has a long track record of having the lowest bills in Texas because of its commitment to conservation programs that help people lower their bills. My hope is that with the passage of this plan, those programs will not only expand but coordinate with other programs like bill assistance, neighborhood housing and community development.”

Coalition representatives also said that the plan reduces financial risk associated with overreliance on fossil fuels. The plan would enable Austin Energy to ramp down the Fayette coal plant more often, protecting the utility from pending carbon regulation.

“Whether or not you support greenhouse gas regulation, reducing the amount of carbon emissions that Austin is responsible for makes economic sense,” Johnson said. “That’s in addition to the improvements in air quality Austin and the surrounding region would experience. It’s a win-win.”

Austin’s City Council could vote on the plan in March, according to Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. He has scheduled a Feb. 22 town hall meeting on Austin Energy’s Resource and Climate Protection Plan. Coalition members urge the public to visit www.cleanenergyforaustin.org and sign on as well as attend the town hall meeting to show their support.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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