Renewable energy plan critics and advocates agree: efficiency is good

August 20, 2009

COMPILED FROM STAFF REPORTS
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN ENERGY SEEKING TO SAVE THROUGH EFFICIENCY

This much, at least, early supporters and skeptics agree on about a new proposal to cut Austin Energy’s carbon emissions: More efficient use of electricity is the way to go.

Austin Energy is proposing numerous steps that General Manager Roger Duncan says will make the city greener. The key point, he says, is figuring out ways for customers to use less electricity without affecting the way they work and live. In 2007, Austin set a goal of offsetting 700 megawatts of demand – the equivalent of a power plant – through energy efficiency by 2020. Duncan is suggesting the city up that goal to 800 megawatts.

This will probably require the city to invest in new technologies, pass new building codes and offer more subsidies for things like improved insulation. But big businesses, environmental activists and Duncan say those steps are much cheaper than building a new power plant.

Efficiency programs have cost Austin Energy about $350 per kilowatt, while a new power plant would cost between $700 and $6,000 per kilowatt, according to calculations by Roger Wood of Freescale Semiconductor.

Environmental activists and big businesses, however, are calling for more investment in conservation.

CUTTING COAL TO PRESERVE WATER

A sign that Austin’s drought is on everyone’s mind: Austin Energy, in pitching its idea to phase out the coal-fired Fayette Power Plant, is emphasizing water.

Austin Energy General Manager Roger Duncan is proposing the utility cut the power it gets from the Fayette plant by a third by 2020. That in turn would save a billion gallons of water by 2020, according to Austin Energy.

But Duncan was also careful to avoid diving headlong into the city’s water debate. The Fayette water savings, he said, would have no bearing on whether Austin needs to build a new water-treatment plant, a debate that is becoming heated.

"Nearly every council member asked me about that," Duncan said Monday.

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