Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Affordable Energy Resolution

Serving as Chair of the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force has not only been a mouthful to say, it has been a great opportunity to participate in local government and to experience first hand the importance of our community processes.

Created in March, the Task Force didn't get going until mid April.  For the next 14 weeks, we met weekly, holding two public meetings, with a final meeting on July 9th.  You can view The Plan on our web site.  But just as important as the plan are the various reports and presentations that were given to the Task Force that are also posted on the web site.

Almost immediately after the plan was published in print form, a City Council Resolution containing many of the recommendations in the plan began to get traction at Council.  It also included elements of other actions by the Electric Utility Commission and other environmental groups.  Another resolution, which included other Task Force elements dealing with efficiency and weatherization also gained support.

 Meantime, Austin Energy, the utility that was being told what to do, went nothing short of postal in its position on the Task Force Report.  Even though the Task Force Report made it clear by the endorsement of the affordability metrics adopted by Council as the first  recommendation in the report, the utility went on a scare campaign.  The second recommendation on zero carbon by 2030 was equally constrained with the same affordability language.   

Yet, the Utility continued to appear on the front pages of the local newspaper, mailing to its commercial energy customers, and speaking openly that the adoption of the main elements of the plan would be a financial disaster.  "I can tell you that replacing Decker with solar power contracts would be an economic disaster for rate payers", said the Austin Energy general manager.

This was in contradiction to his statement in March 2014 when he said that the 150 MW west Texas solar deal would have a "very small but favorable impact to the power supply adjustment."

Yet, in a rather famous evening at Austin City Council, The Affordable Energy Resolution was passed on a vote 5 to 0 with the Mayor and Council Member Spelman off the dias.

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club reported it this way:

Historic Affordable Clean Energy Plan Adopted 
City sets ambitious solar goal, path to zero carbon pollution from Austin Energy by 2030

    Austin, Tex. – A diverse coalition of groups representing workers, people of faith, low-income residents, clean energy supporters and environmental advocates united in their of goal of expanding affordable clean energy and protections to public health cheered the Austin City Council for adopting the Affordable Energy Resolution late Thursday evening.

    The resolution comes after years of community-led work to study Austin Energy’s portfolio and generation plan, identify opportunities to strengthen the municipal utility’s clean energy and climate commitments while meeting the needs of low-income communities and after community members demonstrated strong demand for more affordable clean energy and less pollution on a reasonable but aggressive timeline.

     The Affordable Energy Plan calls for Austin Energy to generate more than 60 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025 and eliminate carbon pollution from its generator fleet by 2030. It directs the utility phase out the Decker gas-fired power plant by investing in 600 megawatts of solar power, enough to power more than 100,000 homes.

     Solar is now cheaper than building a new natural gas plant. Our analysis shows that 600 megawatts of solar will save Austin Energy between $12 and $33 million per year,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group.  “We’re grateful for the strong leadership shown by Council Members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.”

     The landmark resolution also takes significant steps to expand local solar power.  It doubles Austin’s local solar goal to 200 megawatts, with half of that goal reserved for distributed residential and commercial solar projects. And the resolution expands access to rooftop solar projects by including solar leasing as an option for residents and businesses and by refining Austin Energy’s innovative value of solar tariff.

 I was in Mexico in the mountains when the vote came.  But since it was so late, the internet was working good enough to see it all come down.  It was a thing of beauty. And don't let any one tell you differently.  A hundred people had waited all day to speak in support  of the resolution and were now being told that they must come back the next day.  An alert Council member Martinez saw that there was no one signed up to speak against the resolution and so he made a motion to reconsider the postponement and bring the resolution up.

That motion passed over the Mayor's objection.  After some brief comments from supporters and one activist who had signed up neutral on the resolution, the resolution passed 5 to 0.

The next day there was a lot of hubbub about it all and so a reconsideration motion was made by the Mayor pro tem.  That failed 3 to 3.

Thus the first act ended.

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