Moving Closer to 100 Percent Renewable Energy

Decker Power Station
Photo By Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0

Sponsored Post – from the Sierra Club

This editorial was written by Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club

Over the last several years, the Austin community, Austin Energy, and its board of directors (Austin City Council) have been engaged in spirited discussions about how and where to get our electrical energy.

Starting with a resolution back in 2007 which set a goal to reduce climate-disrupting pollution, and a 30 percent by 2020 renewable energy goal, the city has been discussing in several open settings how to move toward cleaner energy. How does Austin maintain its “green” image when it is part-owner of an old coal plant that spews out so much pollution? What about our existing fleet of natural gas power plants that contribute to local spikes in ozone pollution? Now that its neighbor to the north, the City of Georgetown, has committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2018, can Austin keep pace? It will definitely be more difficult because Austin Energy owns fossil fuel power plants.

Late last month, City Council, the Resource Management Commission, and the Electric Utility Commission began discussions on a host of recommendations that could move Austin forward again on climate action.

Over the past nine months, (partially as a response to the recent rate case settlement with Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and other parties), Austin Energy worked with the Sierra Club and other stakeholders under the auspices of the Electric Utility Commission, on an update to the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2025. Adopted by City Council, that set 2025 goals of 55 percent renewable energy, ending Austin’s use of coal by 2023, and phasing out use of two old natural gas plants located at Decker Lake. That plan also included a study of an option to replace the Decker natural gas plant with a modern natural gas-fueled combined cycle plant, which many members of the community opposed. Ultimately, this was dismissed, and there is no current plan  to add a new natural gas plant to Austin Energy’s resources. Current solar and wind contracts will bring us to 47 percent renewable energy by 2019, surpassing the goal set just a few years ago.

The 17-member stakeholder group, Including Cyrus Reed from the Sierra Club, known as the Electric Utility Commission Resource Planning Working Group, held more than a dozen meetings between November 2016 and May 2017, and approved a suite of recommendations that were presented to City Council late last month. The recommendations maintain the current course of the 2025 plan, but boost investments in renewables, energy efficiency, and local storage. It would also maintain commitments to phase out the use of the Fayette coal plant and end the use of the two Decker natural gas plants. There are no recommendations to invest in new natural gas resources. Instead, the group recommended  more studies of “dispatchable” renewable resources like battery storage, demand response, and the use of electrical vehicles.

While the the stakeholder group did not unanimously adopt all of the recommendations, and a number of minority statements were included in the document, a majority of the members did endorse the following recommendations:

Affordability

We reaffirm that the recommendations below are subject to the affordability goals adopted in 2010, which includes a 2 percent per year limit on rate increases system wide and a goal for rates to be in the lower 50th percentile statewide.

Renewable Energy

Commit to 65 percent renewable energy by the end of 2027, and study the possibility of a 75 percent and 80 percent goal for 2027.

Local Solar

Maintain existing local solar goals:

  • 110 MW by the end of 2020 (at least 70 MW customer-sited)
  • 200 MW by the end of 2025 (at least 100 MW customer-sited)

Local solar incentive budgets:

  • Commit to $7.5 million per year for fiscal year (FY) 2018 and FY 2019
  • Commit to $5 million per year for FY 2020-FY 2027

Additional local solar policies and programs:

  • Commit to enhanced incentives and/or programs for affordable housing projects 
by FY 2018
  • Study and possibly pilot a utility-managed rooftop solar program that requires no 
investment from participants

Energy Efficiency and Demand Response


Austin Energy’s goal is to achieve at least 800 MW of energy efficiency and demand response by 2020. Austin Energy will also commit to achieving 1,000 MW by 2027, an increase of 100 MWs over the previous goal. This is subject to any methodology changes pursuant to the recommendations of a measurement and verification (M&V) consultant, code and manufacturer standards, technology, budgets, and analysis of progress to date. Austin Energy will reevaluate the 2027 goal upon completion of the M&V consultant study, and reset if necessary to reflect proportionate demand reduction savings. Austin Energy will also assess the potential to reach 1100 MW by 2027.

In addition, Austin Energy will:

  • Budget at least 2.5 percent of its gross revenues to Demand Side Management, and will work with stakeholders to make future 
goals “budget-based” rather than MW-based
  • Target at least 1 percent of energy savings (as compared to 
energy sales) on an annual basis going forward
  • Direct at least 15 percent of its total Demand Side Management budget to existing and potential 
programs for low-income and hard-to-reach markets in the multifamily and single-family areas along with small businesses

Local Energy Storage

Austin Energy will commit to achieving 30 MW of local thermal storage by 2027 — an increase of 10 MWs over the previous goal —  and a minimum of 10 MW of electric storage by 2025. Austin Energy is currently developing 3 MW of electrical storage with the help of a grant from the DOE SHINES program. Upon completion of these projects in 2018, Austin Energy will develop a roadmap for electrical storage based on the lessons learned from the SHINES project.

Decker Power Plant

Austin Energy will 
target ceasing operations and beginning retirement of the Decker unit 1 after the summer peak of 2020, and unit 2 after summer peak of 2021, assuming ERCOT approval

Fayette Coal-Fired Power Plant

The stakeholder group recommendations reaffirm the previous 2014 goal to begin the retirement of Austin Energy’s portion of the Fayette Power Project (FPP) at the end of 2022.

Emerging Technologies


Austin Energy should study emerging technologies including dispatchable renewable energy technologies, battery storage, compressed air energy storage (CAES), demand response, and Vehicle to Grid.

When to Update

AE would conduct resource plan updates in advance of cost-of-service studies every five years, unless significant changes in technology or market conditions warrant more frequent updates. Austin Energy will rerun a cost analysis for the existing plan and provide an update on progress towards reaching established goals every two years. Reports will be provided to the City Council, the Electric Utility Commission, and the Resource Management Commission.

Transportation

AE would initiate private and public partnerships that promote, market, and provide electric vehicle support that will increase utility revenue while reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases. In addition, the group recommended to expand current efforts and, if possible, utilize these vehicles as a valid distributed storage technology.

So what wasn’t included that many in the community are demanding?

Several members of the working group believed that the goal of 75 percent renewable energy by 2027 was achievable, and some wanted a specific 2030 goal of net-zero carbon emissions from city-controlled generation, because there is a current contract for about 15 percent of our energy from the South Texas Nuclear Project, that would be a commitment to 85 percent renewable energy. The compromise was to commit to 65 percent by 2027 but also study reaching 80 percent by 2027. Sierra Club believes a net-zero carbon emissions goal is achievable by 2030, although a specific analysis has not been conducted. An additional study by the utility would help convince all of our stakeholders — including large commercial and industrial customers and advocates for low-income communities — that it is achievable and affordable and that study should be conducted within the next two years.

In fact, because of a previous City Council resolution in August 2014, there is already an existing goal to get to the net-zero goal by 2030 if affordable. Thus far, no specific studies have been conducted, and because the Generation Plan only goes until 2027, even if City Council fails to reconfirm the 2030 goal, it will likely be taken up in a few years when the Generation Plan is updated.

In addition, some members of the community were hoping for more ambitious goals on energy efficiency and local solar. However, Austin Energy made important budgetary commitments – including to low-income programs — that should allow the utility to not only meet but exceed the minimum goals in the recommendations.

Learn more and get involved

A public hearing on the generation plan will be held on August 10th. We encourage our Austin-area members to come out in August to ask City Council to adopt an ambitious generation plan, similar to the recommendations made by the Working Group.


Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork. 

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