Plenty of Texas’ politicians may be ignoring climate change, but individual cities and municipalities in the state are still making moves toward renewable energy. The latest gambit is coming out of Austin, where last week the city passed a new plan to get 55 percent of its power from clean energy by 2025.
The proposal lays out the future plans for the municipal utility, Austin Energy, and it passed the city council last Thursday with a six-to-one vote, according to GreenTech Media. Under the topline goal for 2025, the plan includes 600 megawatts of utility-scale solar, plus another possible 150 megawatts once further cost-benefit analysis is concluded next year. A further 200 megawatts of locally-sourced solar are called for, at least half of which must be customer-owned.
Energy efficiency and demand response improvements — provided by smart grids, smart meters, and the like — are to provide at least another 800 megawatts over the next ten years, and possibly up to 1,200 megawatts. Finally, the plan calls for 10 megawatts of storage technology from batteries to thermal storage, with studies to be done on the possibility of bringing yet another 200 megawatts online via that route.
“This is the start of a process to get us to a place where we’re not using coal anymore, where we’ve reduced gas and we’ve increased renewable and solar,” Cyrus Reed, the acting director of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, told KXAN News. “This is a plan, it’s a road map, it’s going to take constant vigilance.”
Reed was part of the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force the city council appointed back in April to make recommendations for the city’s energy future. Austin Energy, the Electric Utility Commission, and local environmental groups were all part of the task force, which hashed the plan out over the last few months. That back-and-forth included an agreement to shutter Austin Energy’s coal-fired Fayette Power Plant by the end of 2022, and a plan to replace the older units at Austin Energy’s Decker natural gas plant with more efficient 500-megawatts combined cycle technology. That last bit, however, is contingent on “a third-party independent study before we spend any money on gas and before we move forward with any gas plant project” said Mike Martinez, a city council member and candidate for mayor.
“The gas plant is a component Austin Energy does feel strong about. I’m not convinced that we absolutely need it.”
An earlier version of the plan called for phasing Decker out completely as well, and many of the people who commented at the city council’s final meeting on Thursday also wanted the natural gas plant scrapped entirely. But even with that compromise, the plan is expected to cut carbon emissions from Austin’s electricity generation by 75 to 80 percent by 2025, according to PV Magazine.
Texas boasts some of the lowest prices for small-scale solar installation in the country, and Austin’s recent contract with Recurrent Energy for a 150-megawatt solar plant was hammered out for an astonishingly low five cents per kilowatt-hour. Similar deals for solar plants in other states, which lock buyers and providers into long-running agreements, are an indication that players in the market are increasingly confident solar’s low prices are here to stay, and likely to keep dropping.
Those trends also led Austin Energy to conclude that the new plan shouldn’t increase electricity rates more than two percent. But some of the people who spoke up at the city council meeting also pointed to those same falling solar costs as evidence the revamped natural gas plant at the Decker site was unnecessary.