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Posts Tagged ‘wind’

Solar Excellent Resource for Meeting High Demand for Energy

You’ve probably heard how solar and wind are intermittent energy sources that aren’t always available, but that’s not the whole story, or necessarily the most important part.

DoD Energy

DoD Energy

When an energy source is available is a critical piece of the puzzle.  We don’t need nearly as much electricity in the middle of the night as we do at 5 pm on a week day when people get home from work and turn down their air conditioning and start cooking dinner, watching TV and doing laundry – often all at the same time.

And now the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) – the entity responsible for keeping the lights on in most of Texas –  is officially recognizing that solar energy is available right when we need it the most – on sunny afternoons – and that wind resources are able to contribute far more than was once believed to meeting our energy needs at those times as well.

ERCOT has no special love for renewable energy – protecting public health and the environment isn’t a factor in its decisions – but it has studied the issue and decided to give solar and wind generators the credit they actually deserve.  Solar facilities up to 200 MW (that’s like a gas plant) will be given a 100% capacity value, although larger solar facilities will have a somewhat lower rating.  Coastal wind will have a 32.9% capacity value.  Coastal wind blows more during the day than West Texas wind, which blows mostly at night, but even non-coastal wind will now get a 14.2% capacity value.  Capacity value corresponds to how likely it is for an energy source to be available during peak energy demand – typically a hot, summer afternoon.

Wind has become a real contributor to the Texas energy portfolio and we can look for solar to make an even larger contribution in the years to come.  This policy change at ERCOT will help us move in that direction.

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wind_turbine_aalborgProbably not overall, but the City of Houston has made a historic commitment – to buy half its power from renewable sources.

Houston was built around the oil and gas industries and has long suffered the consequences of being home to many of the nation’s most polluting refining and chemical manufacturing facilities.  Purchasing clean energy for the City’s facilities won’t change all that, but it does represent a significant change in mindset.

In the absence of federal legislation to address the increasingly pressing problem of climate change, local action has become essential.  At the very least, the energy used in public buildings – that taxpayers pay for – should be clean energy.  Houston is taking a huge step in that direction.

Wind energy is already one of the cheaper energy sources in Texas and solar energy is becoming competitive, especially as prices increase with higher energy demand.  These trends will be helped by large-scale investments like the one Houston is making.

Moving away from energy from coal-fired power plants will also help keep jobs growing in Texas.  Luckily, this isn’t an issue of jobs vs. the environment.  It’s an easy choice of supporting both.  Kudos to Houston to for recognizing an opportunity to take a leadership role.

Talk to your local elected officials about using clean energy to power your public buildings.

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Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at [email protected]  And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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Texas Capitol - north viewTwo bills have now been filed in the Texas House that would expand the state’s goals for renewable energy.  Representative Rafael Anchia‘s bill, HB 723, would establish goals for growing renewable energy installations other than large-scale wind through 2022.  Similarly, Representative Eddie Rodriquez‘s bill, HB 303, would establish a goal for solar installations and increase the existing goal (which was met 15 years ahead of schedule) for all renewable energy for 2020.

We applaud these efforts and the leadership that Rep. Anchia and Rep. Rodriquez are showing by filing these bills.  These proposals recognize that success is a good thing and something we want more of.  You wouldn’t think that would need saying, but when a state agency recommends tossing out a successful policy, I start to wonder.  Texas’s renewable energy goals have been extraordinarily successful.  Not only have the goals been met ahead of time, but they have spurred development of the wind industry in Texas, bringing economic benefits to rural parts of West Texas, as well as to manufacturing centers.  On top of that, wind energy is helping to keep electric bills lower.

A carpenter doesn’t throw away her hammer just because she finished building her first book shelf and Texas shouldn’t repeal it’s renewable energy policies, just because we’ve met some of our goals (remember, the non-wind goal was never enforced).  Wind energy does now makes a substantial contribution to meeting the state’s electrical needs – it contributed a record 26% this past Christmas day, but solar energy is still very underutilized (accounting for less than 1% of energy on the ERCOT grid, which serves 85% of the Texas population) and the geothermal energy industry is still getting off it’s feet.  As Rep. Anchia and Rep. Rodriquez’s bills show, this successful policy tool can be adjusted to keep moving Texas forward.

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Orbach: $1 billion for energy storage research could launch state’s next energy era

Watch for the University of Texas at Austin to soon make a $1 billion pitch to lawmakers aimed at unleashing the state’s vast potential to lead the nation and even the world in renewable energy production.

Ray Orbach, director of UT’s Texas Energy Institute, has compiled what he considers a compelling case for a large public investment in battery storage research meaningful enough to launch Texas into a new energy economy that taps the state’s enormous potential capacity for solar, wind and geothermal power generation.

“I really would like to have a crash program. My thought is it could be comparable to the cancer initiative,” he told Texas Energy Report. “I would like to see it in the billion-dollar range. My point is the potential is there. I just think it’s crazy not to sit down and optimize it for Texas.”

Orbach said a new study found that Texas has the potential to lead the nation in nearly every form of renewable energy. In concentrating solar alone – which allows for fluctuations that make it more economical – tapping just one percent of Texas’ total capacity could generate electricity equivalent to the entire needs of the ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) power grid, he said.

“We have as much energy potential above ground as we do below ground,” Orbach said this week to an audience attending a symposium sponsored by the Texas Public Utility Commission called “Renewable Solutions for Energy Prosperity in Texas.”

Citing a just released July study called “U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS-Based Analysis,” Orbach laid out what’s in it for Texas if the state’s leading scientific minds solve the energy storage puzzle:

Urban utility-scale photovoltaics:  Texas has the highest estimated potential (13 percent of the U.S.)

Rural utility-scale photovoltaic: Texas has the highest estimated potential (14 percent of the U.S.

Rooftop photovoltaic’s: Texas has the second-highest estimated potential (9 percent of the U.S.)

Concentrating solar power: Texas has the highest estimated potential (20 percent of U.S.)

Onshore wind power: Texas has the highest estimated potential (17 percent of U.S.)

Offshore wind power: Hawaii has the highest estimated potential, while Texas has 6 percent of U.S.

Enhanced geothermal systems: Texas has the highest estimated potential (10 percent of U.S.)

“The opportunities are so enormous. I was stunned,” Orbach said of his reaction when he read the study that takes into account environmental and land-use constraints, and topographical limitations.

Because each of the renewable capacity calculations is based on the same total land, Orbach said Texas leaders need to determine how to best optimize the state’s renewable resources with decisions about which fuel mix to pursue and where. In an interview, he acknowledged that political and economic considerations would pose major challenges, but he suggested a planning commission appointed by the governor and legislators could help navigate those.

Think of the planning concept as akin to the Texas Railroad Commission’s early history in setting production limits to ensure that oil and gas resources would last longer with conservation measures such as adequate well spacing, he said.  And think of state’s commitment to building CREZ (Competitive Renewable Energy Zones) transmission lines to transport wind energy as a parallel to the research commitment needed to solve the problem of energy battery storage for wind and solar.

With its federal production tax credits, Orbach said wind has posed pricing issues for ERCOT’s wholesale competitive market. But he insisted he’s a free-market advocate who does not think wind or solar would need any subsidies to compete. As for kick-starting research to solve energy storage issues, he said Texans should think of that as an investment that would repay itself many times over.

“Our future will depend on our ability to store base load electricity from fluctuating sources. We are truly blessed with intellectual and energy sources. It’s time for a zoning, an optimization of how we use these wonderful resources for the benefit of citizens in this state,” Orbach said. “This is not just a Texas issue. The market for what we produce in Texas is global. You can think outside the boundaries of our state for these opportunities.”

In addition to the big picture, some of Texas’ energy opportunities have hardly been discussed, he said. The potential for enhanced geothermal energy alone, he said, is 384 gigawatts. That’s equivalent to five times the total ERCOT load.

Geothermal energy taps into underground heat, and fracturing underground rock is one way to release the heat. He points to natural gas wells hydraulically fractured in the Barnett Shale of North Texas and their future to be repurposed in 10 to 20 years for renewable energy production. The wells have already fractured rock at a depth of 8,000 to 10,000 feet where temperatures range from 200-300 degrees Fahrenheit, he noted.

“What happens when those wells are played out? Do we just cap them and walk away? They are a source of potential enhanced geothermal energy. We have the sources now that we’re using for liquids and gas and oil that in fact may well be available in the future for enhanced geothermal,” Orbach said.

Meanwhile, the price of solar panels is dropping sharply as China floods the market with panels at 80 cents a watt, he said. Consequently, solar installations in the first half of this year doubled to 1,254 megawatts over the 623 installed in the first six months of 2011. That’s the size of a nuclear reactor, he said, and this year it will amount to two.

“It’s a revolution,” he added. “It’s a sign for those of us interested in solar and wind and renewable energy that there’s an opportunity here for Texas to be mined.”

By Polly Ross Hughes

Copyright September 14, 2012, Harvey Kronberg, www.texasenergyreport.com, All rights are reserved.  Reposted by TexasVox.org with permission of the Texas Energy Report.

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According to Bloomberg, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is calling for a national energy policy that will promote the use of clean-energy technologies.  This would include U.S. investment in advanced battery technologies, biofuels and efficient high-voltage transmission systems.  Secretary Chu went on to say they are expecting wind and solar power may be able to compete with fossil fuels, without aid from government subsidies, within the next decade, rather than the three decades the U.S. Department of Energy was projecting earlier.

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Guest contributer - Paul Sadler

Paul Sadler is the executive director of the Wind Coalition, and a former Texas state legislator.  He responds to the recent comptroller report which he believes did not accurately represent the job creation potential of wind energy

If we are to believe a recent report from the comptroller’s office (“An Analysis of Texas Economic Development Incentives 2010”), wind energy creates only 500 jobs in Texas.

And if we are to believe another claim by the comptroller’s office, a weekend of Formula One racing at a taxpayer-subsidized track in Austin will bring 5,000 jobs. In other words, even though Texas is the sixth-largest producer of wind energy in the world, with enough installed capacity to power 2.5 million homes, we are supposed to believe it produces one-tenth the number of jobs as expensive cars driving along a track.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has indicated she does not believe the statute authorizing her report on economic development incentives allows her to look at the total economic impact of wind energy as she did for a Formula One race.

So, let’s introduce some facts missing from the comptroller’s report. (more…)

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New federal statistics indicate the decarbonization of our nation is starting to happen.  Wind power is on the rise, big time; rooftop solar is coming down in price and large scale utility solar is beginning to be considered.

In 2008, 19,000 megawatts of new generating capacity went online. Around 8,300 megawatts of that were from wind and only 1,600 from coal with much of the rest from natural gas. Over the next few years, utilities are planning to put 27,000 megawatts of capacity on line, only 5,000 of which is coal — and 11,000 of which is wind power.

If solar (both distributed and large scale utility generation) gets a foothold combined with storage in the next several years and we pursue energy efficiency efforts agressively, we could dramatically reduce the need for the development of new fossil fuel generation.

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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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In Michael Webber’s Op Ed in the Sunday, March 21st Austin-American Statesman, he beautifully explained why solar is now ready to become the next big energy source, but was shy on steps that the Texas legislature or our local public utilities could take to reduce energy costs while creating a local solar manufacturing boom.

We can do the same thing for solar that we did for wind.  Set a modest statewide goal, say – 5,000 MW by 2025, and require every utility to buy some solar so they can get used to it.

When the sun is the hottest is when solar makes the most energy, during the summer in Texas that is also when our peak demand for electricity occurs. Meeting peak demand is often 3-4 times more expensive than the average cost of power. If small solar energy owners were paid market price for the energy they produce on peak you’d see solar everywhere.

Solar incentive programs work. Austin and TXU have had programs like this that pay about 30% of the cost and have been sold out. This program has kick started local industries and attracts installers and manufacturers.

Solar can cut costs and pollution (the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere per unit of energy produced is 500 times less than coal), but the industry needs a little push. If the state of Texas and local utilities adopt all three of these goals, we’ll be on the way to a solar boom.

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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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For those of you following our work organizing citizens in the Bay City area against the proposed White Stallion coal plant, there is a new chapter to add to the saga. You may remember that we were down there recently speaking with rice farmers concerned about the plant’s potential (huge!) water use. Turns out not everyone in the county was happy with this turn of events, especially Judge Nate McDonald, who thinks the project will be “great” for the county and the state of Texas.

Clearly, we’re going to have to part ways on that one. Judge McDonald fired the first shot with an op-ed in the Bay City Tribune, but the paper gave us a forum to respond. You’ll find our answer below, and can find the rice farmer’s response here.

No such thing as ‘clean coal’

by Tom “Smitty” Smith

Recently, County Judge Nate McDonald expressed his concerns that rice famers met with Public Citizen, a national consumer and environmental group, to discuss the negative impacts of the proposed White Stallion coal plant, particularly the amount of water the plant will use. Unfortunately, he got his facts wrong about both the plant and our organization.

The judge says he welcomes development and that his requirement for White Stallion is “that it be the cleanest coal plant there is and do no harm to our environment and air quality,” but the facts show that this plant is not the “cleanest coal plant there is” and will do substantial harm.

There is no such thing as “clean coal.” Even if there were, White Stallion would certainly not qualify.

This coal plant would be, by far, the largest source of pollution in Matagorda County. (more…)

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Tonight, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell will host a town hall meeting on an energy plan for Austin Energy that would establish our own carbon dioxide cap and reduction plan. The great news is that by 2020, Austin’s investments in solar, wind and energy efficiency would allow us to reduce our dependence on the Fayette coal plant by 30 percent! The town hall meeting is our opportunity to show widespread public support for the plan.

Please attend the mayor’s town hall meeting at 6 p.m. TONIGHT, Monday, Feb. 22, at the Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Rd.

Public Citizen will have a table outside the auditorium where we will gather signatures for the Clean Energy for Austin coalition. Working with other environmental organizations, we’ve gained the support of more than 70 businesses, 18 nonprofits and over 200 individuals, who are calling on the City Council to pass the clean energy plan. But we need you to come to this town hall and show your support.

This is your opportunity to ask questions, learn more and have your input heard by our mayor. In addition, city officials will be asking questions of the audience, so you can tell the mayor and City Council that you want a clean energy future for our town.

So please endorse Clean Energy for Austin, and come to the meeting Monday night. We hope to see you there!

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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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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.

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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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The Austin American Statesman’s article this morning about Austin’s 2020 energy plan leaves a few things out that are crucial to understanding the costs and benefits of adding more energy efficiency and renewable power to Austin’s generation portfolio. Judging from the rather depressing comments section, many readers took away the unfortunate misconception that poor Austinites will have to sacrifice for green energy goals. I’d like to clear that up today.

Few things irk me more than when people fail to see the connection between improving social welfare and protecting the environment.

The notion that green power has to come at the expense of low-income households needs to be eradicated. Social welfare and protecting the environment are not conflicting or exclusive goals. By cleaning up the way we produce electric power and making homes more energy efficient, we can do much to improve the quality of life in Austin. And by making homes that can be heated and cooled with less energy, we can save low-income families money on one of their biggest monthly expenditures AND keep Austinites healthy and safe during bitter cold and dangerous summer heat.

There are a few key points that need to be part of the public discussion about the energy plan which have largely been absent from the public radar. I’d ask any Austinite doing their homework for the Mayor’s Town Hall on Monday to take these issues into consideration:

The Plan is Flexible

As part of the Generation Resource Planning Task Force, I voted with all other members of the Task Force to include a provision that Austin review the plan every two years in case any one resource option became too costly (recommendation 3a-b). That way, AE would have the ability to adapt its plan and go with something cheaper. This is a ratepayer protection and cost control mechanism that will protect all customer classes and should be included in the public discussion about the plan. As my friend Cyrus Reed at the Sierra Club puts it astutely: the plan is a roadmap, not a straightjacket.

That’s the beauty of a diverse energy portfolio. Austin would not have this ability if it were locked into building a new nuclear plant or coal plant (like CPS Energy is).

Energy Efficiency is part of the plan

Public discussion of this plan tends to focus on supply-side renewable resources, but the biggest component of the energy plan is energy efficiency. If it met its goals, Austin would achieve 800-1000 MW of energy savings by 2020. The next highest new resource addition would be wind (~562 additional MW when taking into account 203 MW worth of expiring wind contracts). 800 MW of efficiency represents 55% of all the resource additions that encompass the Resource & Climate Protection Plan (note that 100 MW of gas, 100 MW of biomass, and 30 MW of solar that are due to come online over the next three years are not part of the plan).

Efficiency achieves carbon reduction objectives and affordability objectives. Thus, the biggest component of the energy plan will help keep bills low. It’s also worth pointing out that if we do not achieve the efficiency goals, we will need new supply-side generation in order to keep the lights on–800 MW worth. Without efficiency, bills are sure to go up much higher because all supply-side options are more expensive than efficiency.

Comparisons give perspective

Let’s talk about bill impacts on the poor. Take a drive down I-35. San Antonio’s utility, CPS Energy predicts they will need to increase rates 40% by 2020 and that does not even include the future cost increase for natural gas or costs for investing in the proposed expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Plant, which has risen from ~$6 billion in 2007 to $18 billion today before license application are adjudicated or construction begins.

No one is advocating for environmental protection at the expense of the poor. That is flat-out a false choice. This plan won’t do that because of the protections that will be put in place, the overwhelming focus on energy efficiency and AE taking a more proactive and cooperative approach to services for those struggling to pay their utility bills. In order to make electricity more affordable for people, it is up to us as a community to adopt a pragmatic approach to realizing and achieving the complimentary goals of social welfare and environmental protection. After all, you can’t have one without the other.

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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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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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Live anywhere close to Stephenville?  Next Tuesday, January 26th there will be a forum there titled “Renewable Energy Opportunities for Rural Communities and Agriculture.”  Speakers will present information on how rural communitities, agriculture, and landowners can benefit from partnering to develop renewable resources such as wind and solar.  It will be held from 8 am to 5 pm at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center, 1229 N. Hwy 281. For more information, read the Jacksboro Newspaper posting.

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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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