Posts Tagged ‘Roger Duncan’

Last Thursday Austin Energy General Manager Roger Duncan briefed Austin City Council on the utility’s Resource and Climate Protection Plan.  This plan is the culmination of 18 months of input from the public, the creation of a generation resource task force of various stakeholders to review various energy plans and make recommendations, and support and input from both the Electric Utility Commission and the Resource Management Com­mis­sion — but it still isn’t the end of the line for the plan.  The generation plan will also be the subject of a city-wide town hall meeting February 22nd, and city council is expected to vote on some version of it in March.

The energy plan that Duncan (who will be retiring soon and we wish him the very best) presented  sets Austin on a path to reduce our carbon emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020 and get a total of 35% of our energy from renewable resources. It will meet council’s renewable energy goals, move Austin Energy towards becoming the leading utility in the nation in terms of clean energy and global warming solutions, and re-affirm the city’s commitment to the Climate Protection Plan, which has the laudable goal to establish a cap and reduction plan for the utility’s carbon dioxide emissions.  It is a flexible, living document that will allow council to evolve and adapt as conditions change. AND it will reduce the capacity factor of our Fayette Coal Plant to 60% and gets the ball rolling on figuring out the best way to shut it down(which you know makes me happy). Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, doesn’t it?

As we’ve come to expect over the years from our award winning utility, Austin Energy is taking an especially responsible and forward-thinking role with this new plan.  I’ve formed this opinion for a few reasons:

  1. They’re adopting aggressive renewable energy and efficiency goals as part of a larger, smart business plan.  Austin doesn’t need a new generation plan because we’re going to be strapped for energy by 2020; Austin Energy could rest on their laurels and do nothing for the next ten years and we’d be fine buying up excess energy on the open market as its power purchase agreements expire and gas plants age.  But if they did that, by the time 2020 rolled around Austin would be way behind the technological curve and very likely be stuck with higher rates as a result.  Austin Energy has picked up on the national trend that the traditional fuels we rely upon, such as coal, are quickly becoming financial liabilities even as solar and wind are becoming more and more cost effective.  This plan will allow the utility to reposition itself  for 2020 going forward so that in ten years we will have made the preparations necessary to take full advantage of the coming clean tech boom rather than be left scrambling and dependent on outdated energy sources.
  2. Austin Energy and the task force that helped formulate this plan were very careful to balance considerations of reliability, affordability, and clean (in terms of the environment and human health).  The city has the responsibility to make sure that everyone who lives here can afford their utility bills.  It doesn’t do any good to make the switch to a new clean economy if we do so on the backs of those that can least afford it.  But that couldn’t be farther from the case with this plan; this isn’t green for some, this is green for all.  Compared to other options, this plan will minimize the impact for those least able to pay their electricity bill, supports in-house economic development and the hiring of local contractors, and ensures that everyone will have a chance to play a role in moving our city and economy forward.  There’s been a lot of focus and attention on the utility’s estimate that the plan will raise rates in 2020 by approximately 22% or $21 a month, but what’s missing from that discussion is that even if Austin Energy doesn’t do anything between now and 2020 rates will go up by 15% or about $14 a month.  So do the math — for an extra $7 a month in ten years, we can build up a clean local economy that minimizes impacts on low-income consumers and creates avenues to new employment opportunities, improves public health, AND puts Austin in a prime position to start lowering rates by taking advantage of cheap renewable energy. OR we can save families $7 a month compared to today on their utility bills but lose out on new jobs and leave every citizen in the city of Austin at the mercy of high fossil fuel costs and coming federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.  Austin Energy is not only looking at what is most affordable now, but what is most affordable in the long term. Coal may be cheap and reliable energy now, but depending on it in the long term will get us into trouble in terms of cheap and affordable in 2020.
  3. Austin Energy is not only reaching for the low fruit of emissions reductions and energy efficiency, they’re building high-tech ladders to get at the really juicy stuff at the top of the tree. Let me explain. There are a number of ways Austin Energy could go about reducing emissions.  The easiest of these would be to buy renewable energy credits, or RECs. RECs and offsets are in essence a mechanism for utilities, businesses, and governmental bodies to pay someone else to clean up and still get the credit for it.  They’re a good and have a positive influence on society at large because they do encourage clean energy investment and development, but not necessarily in a nearby community (in fact almost certainly not).  It might be easier in the short run to pay someone else to be clean up, but then we miss out on all the delicious creamy gravy that comes along with renewable energy development.  If you buy RECs you don’t get new jobs and businesses in your community.  If you buy RECs your own people are still breathing the same amount of pollution.  But Austin Energy is taking the initiative to really get at the heart of the problem by cutting the amount of pollution coming out of the smokestacks we own.  For that, they should be applauded.

This is just my own personal take-away from listening to various people discuss the recommendation plan and hearing Roger Duncan’s presentation to council. You can learn a lot more about the process and final recommended plan by visiting AustinSmartEnergy.com or CleanEnergyforAustin.org. Join us after the jump for some fast facts on the various components of the plan, but for the real nitty gritty check out Duncan’s own powerpoint presentation.


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Statement from Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director, Public Citizen’s Texas Office

Duncan_R_0_2Roger Duncan announced his retirement today. Although it is sad to see a dedicated public servant move on, Public Citizen congratulates him on a fine career as general manager of Austin Energy, a municipal power company.

Austin is a national and world leader in fighting climate change due in large part to Duncan’s leadership.

Roger is a true genius who has developed world-class energy efficiency, renewable energy and distributed generation programs that save Austin citizens money every month on their electric bills. He understands the value of plug-in hybrid cars and trucks as a way to reduce air pollution and save consumers money while creating a new source of revenue for the city’s utility. He created a coalition of governments that gave so many “soft” orders for the vehicles that they were able to convince major auto manufacturers to build them.

He is probably the only utility executive in the country who takes a vacation to sit under a tree by the beach to think about how his utility can solve global warming. Such dedication is rare in his line of work.

As Austin conducts its national search for a new director, it should look for someone who will continue the city’s vision of sustainability. The new director also should have a solid commitment to public power and public process – hallmarks of what has made Austin’s city-owned utility one of the best in the country and so famous worldwide.

Duncan retires as Austin faces many energy challenges. The 2020 generation resource plan currently under review puts the city on a path toward eventual divestiture from the Fayette coal plant. It remains to be seen how quickly Austin can do this.

Whether Roger’s future entails continuing to fight climate change or just sitting on a beach under a tree to relax, we wish him the very best.

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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!


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greenChoiceAfter a rash of local and national press about the recent failure of Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program, Austin Energy has decided to re-evaluate their pricing structure.  The city may be able to reduce the cost of the program by as much as 25%.  Turns out Austin Energy was overly conservative in their estimate of how much it would cost to deliver wind power, so they can knock the price back down without taking a hit.  Roger Duncan, AE’s General Manager, has also suggested spreading out remaining transmission costs to all customers.

Though some non-GreenChoice customers may object to being saddled with this slight extra cost, GreenChoice customers have to pay the same amount as traditional customers for upkeep and maintenence of dirty energy sources, so it evens out.  The other option to make the who-pays-for-what game fair would be to charge GreenChoice customers a pro-rated maintenance fee for the percentage of fossil fuel and nuclear power they received — but in order to do that Austin Energy might have to go and raise everyone else’s maintenance fee to fill in the gap, so rates could go up anyway.  Spreading transmission costs sounds like an easier way to accomplish the same goal, and is consistent with “the policy of all 850 American electric utilities with a program similar to GreenChoice,” according to a memo from Austin Energy to the City Council. Plus, the switch would add less than a cent to everyone’s bill.

Roger Duncan will go to the City Council August 20th to ask for the new rate change and cost distribution.

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social-calendarThere is too much fun going on in the next few days… I can’t handle it.  I wish I could be multiple places at once… and influence climate change legislation by sheer will power.. and attach documents to e-mails telepathically.  Ah well, if wishes were horses, I’d have gotten that pony when I was six.

Here’s a quick breakdown of all the good stuff going on over the next couple days:

Old Settler’s Music Festival, Thursday March 16 – Sunday March 20

Old Settler’s Music Festival is a nationally known music festival featuring the best in roots and Americana music. The festival is held in the gorgeous Texas hill country, at the height of the Bluebonnet and wildflower season. Old Settler’s Music Festival offers great music and activities for the whole family.

The Festival is held at Salt Lick Pavilion and Camp Ben McCulloch, just minutes from Austin, located 11 miles south of Highway 290 West on Farm Road 1826.

Public Citizen is an official sponsor of the event, so keep your eyes out for our table, banners, and slide-shows in between sets.  We hope to live blog the festivities, so be on the lookout for artist interviews and sneak peaks of shows.  And don’t forget your sunscreen, that hill country sun can be brutal!

Fighting Goliath screening, Thursday April 16

When: Thursday, April 16 at 7:00pm

Where: St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, 14311 Wellsport Drive (one block west of the Wells Branch exit off of I-40).

Narrated by Robert Redford and produced by The Redford Center at the Sundance Preserve and Alpheus Media, FIGHTING GOLIATH: TEXAS COAL WARS follows the story of Texans fighting a high-stakes battle for clean air. The film introduces the unlikely partners-mayors, ranchers, CEOs, community groups, legislators, lawyers, and citizens-that have come together to oppose the construction of 19 conventional coal-fired power plants that were slated to be built in Eastern and Central Texas and that were being fast-tracked by the Governor. (34 minutes)

Public Citizen’s Ryan Rittenhosue will do a short presentation on Texas’ current coal threat and have a Q&A session afterward.

Environmental Justice & the Multicultural City: The Transformative Role of Urban Planning City Forum, Friday, April 17

People of color and low-income communities have disproportionately suffered from the environmental burdens generated by consumption and production choices made by others. Responding to these injustices, neighborhood activists have been fighting for over 30 years for the right to live, work, and play in healthy environments. In this City Forum, the panelists will share their insights from research and activist work, and discuss the potential role of planning educators, students and practitioners in addressing environmental justice concerns. (more…)

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austin-skyline-bannerAs expected, the Austin City Council made the decision to delay the vote on Austin Energy’s proposed solar plant until March 5th.  Council Member Mike Martinez wanted to put it off longer, but since the bid for the plant will actually expire just seven days after this March meeting, the council agreed unanimously to have the final vote in three weeks time.

The foremost explanation for this delay was to give more time for the public participation process… though I think it is important to note that the “public” we’re referring to here is chiefly the city’s largest industrial rate-payers.  The general Austin public has already shown its colors on this issue.  According to recent surveys conducted by Austin Energy (and presented yesterday morning by Roger Duncan, general manager of the utility), Austinites want much more solar.  At 30 MW, the proposed solar plant would be the largest utility-scale photovoltaic array in the nation, and the 6th biggest solar plant in the world.  From where I’m sitting, that looks like just what the doctor ordered.

Large-scale users are up in arms because, since they use so much more energy, they think they’re going to be particularly hard hit by any slight rate increase.  Due to information that surfaced during this meeting, I am inclined not to feel terribly sorry for these folks.  If you’ll just stick with me here, everything will be illuminated.  I promise it’ll be good.

The council had already decided to delay the vote before they even entered the chamber, but listened to presentations and public comment anyway.  First on the agenda was Roger Duncan, general manager of Austin Energy.

Roger started out by laying out the basics of the proposed solar plant and how it would fit in with the City’s strategic energy plan.  The City plans to get 100 MW of its power from solar energy by 2020.  The first goal in this process was to install 15 MW of solar power by 2007.  We missed that stepping stone — Roger said we currently have 1.5 MW of solar installed on rooftops throughout Austin.  The next goal in line is to get 30 MW by 2010.  If the proposed project is approved, and built within the expected 18 months, Austin will be right on schedule to meet that goal. (more…)

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Hip-hip- HOORAY! After a series of informative, provocative presentations and public comments this morning, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to DECLINE participation in the South Texas Nuclear Project’s expansion plan.

Austin has a 16% stake in the current South Texas Nuclear Project, and has been questioning for months whether it should be a financial participant in new plans to double the capacity of that plant.  Months ago a consultant firm, Worley Parsons, was hired by Austin Energy to investigate whether this would be a good idea for Austin’s future.

First to present was Roger Duncan, general manager of Austin Energy.  He gave a presentation on the consulting firm’s recommendations.  We learned the following:

  • The proposed expansion would generate an additional 436 MW for the City of Austin.  Estimated cost: $2 billion.
  • Under a worst case scenario (of cost overruns, delayed construction, etc), power generated from the new boilers would cost 13 cents/kwh.  Under the best of circumstances (everything was beautiful and nothing hurt), electricity would cost 6 cents/kwh.  The firm’s most realistic, expected scenario would price out at around 8 and a half cents/kwh — however, it should be noted that Worley Parsons is a pro-nuclear consulting firm, so these are likely the most conservative of estimates.

The consulting firm concluded that with only a 16% stake in the project, Austin Energy would have insufficient owner protection from the scheduling, cost, contractor and regulatory risks involved in the project.  For example, if significant cost overruns did occur, Austin Energy would not have any vote or say in the matter of how to proceed.  Furthermore, large capital costs would be associated with the project throughout 2016 — but none of that cost risk would be within Austin Energy’s control.  The firm also warned of a potential downgrade of Austin Energy’s bonds because of the extended time period of debt issuance without cost recovery.

Because of the significant amount of unacceptable risk associated with the the expansion project, Worley Parsons recommended that Austin NOT participate.  As an Austin Energy spokesman Mr. Duncan announced that the utility had reached the same conclusion with the additional reasoning that Austin has no need for the 432 MW of base-load power that the project would eventually supply.  We wouldn’t even know what to with all that power.  Austin Energy also expressed concerns (rightly so!) that the nuclear waste issue remains unresolved. (more…)

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Got a few seconds? Austin Energy has a survey tool on the Austin Smart Energy website to solicit feedback on their current energy mix and where to get new energy.

Public Citizen is a stakeholder in the process.  We will do our best to advocate for lots of renewables and more efficiency.

And coming soon, for the extra nerdy, the site will have a sim game where you can play the role of GM Roger Duncan and simulate different future energy scenarios. I can’t wait! I might make pewter figurines of utility planners and stay up all night drinking Dr. Pepper.


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