Friday, May 31, 2019

Our Next Horizon















This May, I stepped down from the Electric Utility Commission and from the Joint Sustainability Committee, thus ending my formal 20 year involvement as a city official and a wonk in local energy policy making.

Twenty years ago or so, I got a call from a City Council member of my fair city.  He asked me if I would be interested in serving on a city board or commission.  My public appointments at this time had been statewide appointments, having served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Under Governor Richards, I served on the steering committee of the State of Texas Energy Policy Partnership. I chaired the Renewable Energy subcommittee. Based on our recommendations, Governor Richards created the Sustainable Energy Development Council by executive order. Our job at the SEDC was to craft a strategic plan to develop the vast Texas Renewable Energy  resource.  From the Council's work, a vast network of power lines capable of moving energy from our vast west Texas lands to the population centers in the center of the State was recommended.

These transmission lines became the backbone of a renewable energy industry that would grow to be the largest in the United States.

Under Governor Bush, I served on the Texas Energy Coordination Council.  Part of our work was to see that the recommendations of the SEDC were realized. We also coordinated with the major Universities.

So in 1998, I became a city official serving on the Resource Management Commission.  In a year or so, I became the Chairman.  It was here that the politics and power of water rights for a fast growing city on a river became a critical debate.

By 2002, I had joined the electric utility of the City as a result of a grant from DOE and the State Energy Conservation office.  My job was to write a long term comprehensive energy plan for the City of Austin.  It was published as the book "Silver in the Mine".  For  the next dozen or so years, I worked at the Utility trying to make that plan a reality. As Special Assistant to the General Manager of Energy Development, part of my job was to develop a portfolio of 35% renewable energy.

When that was achieved, I left the Utility to serve on a City Council appointed Generation Task Force to forge an even larger commitment than the one the City adopted in the original climate plan. Out of that plan we determined that 55% renewable energy was achievable and affordable.  We also called for 600 MWs of utility solar which would replace the need for a new gas plant.

I  was then appointed to the Electric Utility Commission and elected as it's Chairman.  It was from the EUC that the recommendations of the Generation Task Force were considered and to a large part adopted and built.  Two years later,  another generation planning group, as a working group of the EUC, moved the renewable goal to 65% with 75% to be considered if affordable.

And here in Texas, it is affordable.  Wind prices hover below 2 cents a Kwh.  Utility solar has gone below 3 cents a Kwh.  No coal plant can compete with that.  And no gas plant can compete unless natural gas prices fall to 2 dollars /MCF.

And now the 8th largest Public Utility in the Nation is on course to be 85% to 95% carbon free within the next 7 years.  And that is quite an accomplishment.

Here is my letter to the current Chairman of the EUC:




May 10th, 2019


Chairman Cary Ferchill,
Electric Utility Commission
City of Austin

Dear Cary,

I write to inform you that as of May 15th I will step down from the Electric Utility Commission.

For the last 20 years, I have been active in local government serving as Chairs of the RMC, the EUC, and the Austin Generation Resource Task Force. During my time at Austin Energy, I wrote a Long Term Comprehensive Energy Plan for the City of Austin ultimately serving as Special Assistant to the General Manager for Energy Development.  During these decades, Austin Energy has grown from 10 MWs of wind and a few MWs of landfill gas, to a leader in the Utility Industry.

In the last resource generation planning group, we adopted a goal of 65% renewable energy by 2027, the closure of both Decker Steam plants by late 2021 and the closing of our share of the Fayette Coal plant beginning in 2022.

We should all be proud of our accomplishments up to now and to come.

The next big carbon goal for the city, our state, all of us, is to tackle the transportation sector.  This electrical transportation transformation will be good for our health, our pocketbooks, and our children. I am pleased to see the recent action of the Council on this.  Consequently, in founding the Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance, I have made a decision to shepherd my own resources to that effort.

Since I also serve as the EUC’s representative to the Joint Sustainability Committee, the Commission will need to designate another representative to that important nexus of city commissioners.

The Commission will be facing many challenges in the next five years and I am confident that this EUC will meet those challenges with integrity and skill.

Respectfully,



Michael J Osborne

As the letter says, the work ahead is now in the transportation sector.

If you don't drive electric now, you should.  And in five years, you will.

Just like Texans developed the farm to market road system to bring our foods to market, and we developed an energy delivery system to bring affordable clean energy to our fast growing cities, we will also need to create an  energy delivery system to electrify our transportation system.





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