Council urged to pass renewable energy plan

Representative of Applied Materials joins group of environmental, other activists.

February 17, 2010

By Marty Toohey
Austin American-Statesman

The Austin City Council should swiftly adopt a plan to significantly increase the amount of renewable energy the city uses and decrease the use of traditional sources, such as coal, by 2020, a coalition of environmental activists, nonprofits and businesses said at a Wednesday news conference.

Members of Clean Energy for Austin said Austin Energy’s proposal would help the environment, attract jobs and protect the city from sharp increases in the cost of coal.

Austin’s big businesses that had weighed in previously expressed concern that the plan would hurt their bottom lines. But at least one person representing a large company joined the group Wednesday visit this web-site.

"This is the kind of plan that makes good business sense, and that’s why we as a business support it," said Steve Taylor, a spokesman for Applied Materials Inc. Among those joining him were representatives from Foundation Communities, Interfaith Environmental Network and Austin’s Sierra Club chapter.

Austin Energy is proposing to get 35 percent of the city’s electricity from renewable sources, mostly wind and solar, by 2020, as well as invest heavily in measures to reduce electricity demand. Austin Energy gets about 11 percent of its electricity from renewable sources now.

The proposal would raise electricity bills an estimated 20 percent over the next decade, adjusting for inflation, according to Austin Energy. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the plan next month.

Austin Energy examined dozens of other scenarios, including building only a natural gas plant. That would have kept generating costs flat over the next decade, Austin Energy General Manager Roger Duncan told the City Council at its Jan. 28 meeting.

But Duncan told the council that scenario was not worth pursuing because it would simply delay, and probably worsen, inevitable cost increases in carbon-emitting fuels soon after 2020.

Another group, which includes Samsun, Freescale Semiconductor Inc. and the Catholic Diocese of Austin, said Wednesday that it still has concerns about the plan.

"It would be irresponsible to put a plan into effect, simply to realize we cannot afford it, or sustain it," according to a statement from the Coalition for Clean, Affordable, Reliable Energy, which called for stronger cost-control measures.

Clean Energy for Austin members said Austin Energy’s plan is flexible enough to adapt.

"This plan is a road map, not a straitjacket," said Matt Johnson of Public Citizen, an advocacy group. "If Austin were locked into building a new coal or nuclear plant, our fate would be sealed."

mtoohey(at)statesman.com; 445-3673

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