Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Doing It

In my work, I'm pretty much at ground zero when it comes to developing renewables. I seek out wind leases, look for good solar land, commission transmission studies, look at new and developing solar manufacturing processes, and I help with communications if the need arises.

Most recently, the latter has been the case.

As I told someone last week, we (the Utility) are building the largest solar plant in the United States, perhaps the fourth largest in the World (this week), and it's beginning to feel like it.

Austin is a pretty cool city. We own our own utility and it is well known as a progressive utility. We have the nation's most successful green pricing program, we have a great green building department, and our energy efficiency division has given us more than a coal plants worth of savings over the years. And, we are looking to achieve another coal plants worth of efficiency in our present planning horizon.

The City Council of Austin is a good one. Our Mayor talks of the importance of meeting the challenge of climate change, and he has even taken Al Gore's training, thus enabling him to do the Inconvenient Truth presentation with all those great slides and pictures.

Several years ago, in the spirit of moving towards meeting the challenges that face us all, Council gave the Utility some marching orders with some targets for overall renewable percentages, and some hard targets for solar.

One of these targets was 15 MW of solar by 2007.

We didn't make that.

Even with one of the most aggressive solar rebate programs in the country, in which the Utility buys down the cost of your rooftop solar system by 4.50 a watt, we have barely amassed 2 MWs with the program.

So, we decided to be sure to make the next Council goal, (30 MWs by 2010) by placing a 30 MW PV plant on land that we own, and is inside our control area. (so there are no transmission issues).

After putting out the RFP, our purchasing folks sifted through the bids and they selected a San Francisco developer who was bidding Chinese product. The price we got, given the location and solar insolation available at that location was pretty good, at least as far as solar goes.

So, the Utility took the project to Council.

Now, even though Austin is sometimes called the People's Republic of Austin, it still has more than its fair share of big energy users. And even though they would like to project an image of clean and green, they also care about their bottom lines, especially in a time where bottom lines are looking redder and weirder.

And even though the cost of this plant was about 60 cents per month per residential customer, the costs to the big customers, the really big customers, looked like real money.

Consequently, just a day before the Council was to move on this issue, a Councilmember announced on TV that he was going to ask for a delay. And he got it. Since the bid price had a time certain on it, that delay could only go so far, so the plant approval was pushed back for several more weeks.

Now, the thing that captured my attention was the public dialogue.

We had several activists and activists organizations who were there to support the project and of course, we had the company who won the bid speaking favorably. But, then we had the Building Owners Management Association, some big chip makers, the big hospitals, and some computer makers opposing the plant.

We even had certain parts of the Renewable energy crowd opposing the project because the panels were Chinese, or because it wasn't on rooftops, and thus, it was just another Utility attempt to frustrate distributed generation.

And of course, we had nut balls. One insisted that we must go nuclear, even to the point of jumping out of his seat seconds before the final vote, and stepping to the podium to address the Council one more time just to assure everyone that if there was any doubt that he was off his rocker, those doubts can now be tossed.

In the end, the largest solar plant in the United States was approved last Thursday. The big guys got a victory with a last minute motion by a councilmember who is running for Mayor requiring that the energy of the plant be marketed on some kind of green tarif. The big guys also got a new planning venue that will be added to the two other citizen commissions that have planning jurisdiction over the Utility.

But the point is this, the plant WAS approved, even in these uncertain times,

Because of the one thing that is certain.

Humankind must quit thinking as if everything is still OK.

It is not.

Methane is rising.

Seas are rising even faster than expected,

and they are becoming more acidic.

The climate change time bomb is ticking,

with scientists predicting a six degree C rise in temperature,

all the while worrying if we can survive a 2 degree rise.

We all need to boldly deal with the challenge of Climate Change

And we cannot and should not postpone a moment longer.

My town has shown its mettle.

We are doing it.

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Blogger Charlie Loving said...

People are paying attention finally. They seem to understand that there is a planetary crisis.

The rancher in the west sees a drought which he knows comes from climate change. He knows this because every day he gets up and walks out the door to meet the day. The day is hotter, drier, and even if he listens to Rush on the pickup radio, he knows that the planet he grew up on is changed for the worse. His cousin in the east is being frozen and blown away by the unpredictable weather. And they both know that things are very much different now.

5:19 PM  
Blogger SB said...

Awhile back I was talking to OZ about solar energy -- he's been working on it for as long as I've known him -- 35 or so years -- and I said --

"Some people worry because the sun is not always out."

"It's not?" he said.

We can do this. Austin will take the lead. This is good.

Fabulous in fact.


10:30 AM  

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