Austin is fortunate to have a municipally owned utility company (Austin Energy) rather than one owned by a private corporation. This means that our City Council has control of how our energy generation is managed.
Every two years, the plan for electricity generation by Austin Energy (AE) must be updated. This is known as the “Resource Generation Plan (RGP)”. The purpose of the plan is to set targets and target dates for electricity generation, taking into consideration the transition to zero carbon generation, affordability, and service reliability. The Resource Generation Working Group presented its recommendations to City Council on June 22, 2017. Given the rapidly closing windows of opportunity to reverse climate change and the City Council’s 2014 Resolution 157 to be 100% carbon-free by 2030, these recommendations are too weak. 350 Austin is therefore partnering with several organizations and individuals to make stronger recommendations to City Council. Our campaign is known as “Carbon Free by 2030”.
On August 28, 2014, the Austin City Council adopted a goal for AE “to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from all city-controlled generation resources to zero by 2030, following a glide path against the year 2010 as a baseline.” This goal has never been acknowledged in any AE documents or on the AE website. Furthermore, the Resource Generation Working Group’s current recommendations will not achieve that directive.
Reaffirm Council’s Commitment to Zero Carbon Energy Generation with Precise Goals:
On August 10, 2017 there will be a public hearing for citizens to comment and make requests to City Council regarding the RGP. In order to achieve the goal for Austin to be Carbon Free by 2030, we are asking that City Council do the following:
- Commit to 100% carbon-free energy by 2030. This would require that AE produce as much energy as it sells to customers.
- Retire Fayette Power Project (coal-fired). Fayette is Austin’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). It accounts for nearly 30% of Austin’s carbon footprint and 80% of AE’s footprint. It is also a significant source of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and toxic mercury. All of these are known to have serious health impacts.
- Maintain commitment to close Decker Creek Power Station (natural gas-fired). Ensure that negotiations to close the plant are proceeding at a reasonable pace. This plant is old and inefficient. While it does not run very often, it is a significant source of air pollution in East Austin when it does run.
- Set a firm retirement date of 2020 for the entire Decker plant, including steam and peaker units.
- Increase renewable energy, local solar, energy efficiency, and demand response goals for 2027. Expanding clean energy goals will help push dirty fossil fuels out of the electricity market, lock in low electricity prices, and keep bills low in the medium and long-term. Additionally, investing in local solar and energy efficiency creates local jobs and grows the local economy.
- Adopt the following goals for 2027:*
- 75% renewable energy
- 300 megawatts (MW) local solar and $7.5 million incentive budget through 2025
- 900 MW energy efficiency by 2027
- 300 MW demand response by 2027 (participating customers temporarily reduce their electricity demand for a payment or rebate when demand is high)
Make Clean Energy Equitable
In addition to the above requests, the campaign to be Carbon Free by 2030 is focused on bringing the benefits of clean energy to everyone. Solar costs have come down significantly and financing is now available, making solar accessible to middle-income residents. But lower-income residents, those with poor credit scores, renters, and those in multi-family housing generally cannot utilize local, on-site solar. We are therefore asking City Council to direct AE to do the following:
- Create a new solar rebate for affordable housing developments and maintain the solar program budget to pay for it. Reducing ongoing expenses will help keep housing units affordable.
- Prioritize a billing solution to divide benefits from a single solar installation among many units on multi-family properties. (This was previously recommended but not implemented.)
- Create a solar host program that allows customers to host solar installations on their rooftops and receive payment for doing so. (This is similar to the CPS Energy SolarHost program in San Antonio.)
Calculate “affordability” in a meaningful way
We want AE to replace the rate-based affordability goal with an energy burden goal. Customers pay bills, not rates. That’s the practical affordability impact. Austin Energy’s current affordability goal of limiting rate increases to an average of 2% per year does not prevent lower-income families from spending a large portion of their budget on energy (energy burden). And it doesn’t give the utility credit for reducing bills through energy efficiency and solar programs. We are therefore asking City Council to commission a study on how to replace the rate-based affordability goal with an energy burden goal for residential customers.
Austin Energy is accountable to City Council
In the past AE has chosen to not take action to meet some goals set forth in the Resource Plan. For example, they did not take the action needed to retire the Decker gas plant by 2018. As AE’s governing body, City Council should decide whether or not circumstances warrant a change to the plan. This will also ensure a transparent public process before changes are made to the resource plan. We are therefore asking council to include in the Resource Plan the stipulation that Council must approve any changes or deviations from the Plan.
In short, 350 Austin has partnered with Public Citizen, Texas Drought Project, Solar Austin, ATX-Environmental Justice, and thousands of AE customers in requesting City Council to:
- Reaffirm the commitment to zero carbon electricity generation by 2030;
- Increase the commitment from 65% renewables to 75% by 2027;
- Make access to renewable energy more equitable;
- Calculate “affordability” in a more meaningful way; and
- Require AE to return to City Council for permission before deviating from the Resource Generation Plan.
How you can help:
- Come to the public hearing on August 10, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. We want to flood council chambers with people wearing green and supporting stronger recommendations to get us to Carbon Free by 2030. Check out the Facebook event for details.
- Between now and the public hearing, call and/or write your council member urging him/her to support these recommendations. Find your district number, council member’s name and contact information here: http://www.austintexas.gov/government
This is a winnable campaign. It is one we must win!
*The working group recommendation is to increase the zero carbon generation capacity from 55% in 2025 to 65% in 2027. While superficially their recommendation appears to be a step forward, a more careful analysis of its impact on the goal of zero-carbon by 2030 shows it is actually a step backward at the very time acceleration of the transition is required. To see the total zero-carbon impact, we must consider the contribution of nuclear power (~15%) to our power mix. Please see the table below.
Renewables: 55% by 2025 Nuclear: 15% Total Non-Carbon: 70% by 2025
To be zero-carbon by 2030, the remaining 30% must be made up by renewables at a rate of 6% per year over five (5) years.
Working Group’s Recommendation
Renewables: 65% by 2027 Nuclear: 15% Total non-carbon 80% by 2027
To be zero-carbon by 2030, the remaining 20% must be made up by renewables at a rate of 7% per year over three (3) years.
Renewables: 75% by 2027 Nuclear: 15% Total non-carbon 90% by 2027
To be zero-carbon by 2030, the remaining 10% must be made up by renewables at a rate of 3% per year over three (3) years. A very achievable goal.
We are not advocating nuclear power, but it is calculated in the non-carbon generation by the city. We are deferring the nuclear issue to a future date.