City’s climate plan garners support for renewable energy

February 23, 2010

By Joshua Michaels
Daily Texan

The Austin Energy Generation Plan, a proposal which will lower the city’s greenhouse emissions, cleared its final public hurdle Monday night.

In an interactive public forum at the Palmer Events Center, a panel of experts fielded questions from the moderator and audience members about the pending proposal.

The Generation Plan represents just one piece of the comprehensive Austin Climate Protection Plan, a climate-change blueprint conceived under former Mayor Will Wynn that is designed to slash carbon emissions citywide and make Austin carbon neutral by 2020.

Over the next decade, the Generation Plan proposes to shift energy production from the city’s current coal-dominated plan to one that relies predominantly on wind and natural gas.

The plan, which increases renewable energy by 35 percent, will subsequently raise energy efficiency to 800 megawatts and reduce carbon emissions to 20 percent below the 2005 levels, according to details on the Austin Energy Web site.

The final round of public scrutiny wraps up nearly 18 months of deliberation, which included a series of town hall meetings conducted in 2008 and 2009 and a resource task force composed of representatives from environmental, commercial and public interest groups.

"It reduces our carbon footprint in the short term, but also positions the utility very well going beyond 2020," said Roger Duncan, general manager of Austin Energy and architect of the Generation Plan.

The Austin City Council will likely approve the plan when council members vote on the issue in March, said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

The plan arrives just in time, as mounting expense costs threaten to overwhelm the publicly owned utility. The company’s decreasing revenue, combined with expanding operational costs, is forcing utility officials to revise their business model.

"This coming year, if we don’t cut expenses, we’ll go into the red," Duncan said.

The forum focused largely on the cost of implementing the proposal. Phillip Schmandt, who chaired the resource task force last year, urged the Council to enact the plan as soon as possible.

"We can’t get out of this by cutting costs like a normal business; we can’t tell a thousand residents they won’t have power this month," Schmandt said. "We can, however, cut costs by moving to renewable sources of energy."

Before the panel took questions, Duncan briefly outlined the details of the Generation Plan, explaining that Austin didn’t require extra production capacity as much as it needed to curb costs.

"The plan is designed to shift our resources from fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels," Duncan said.

A task force convened in July and examined the proposal, eventually endorsing it in November with nine additional recommendations attached. Among the recommendations is a provision to publicly reassess the plan every two years.

"The plan is a road map, not a straitjacket," said Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Sierra Club and a former member of the resource task force.

Since the energy market changes so rapidly, the reassessment makes the plan as adaptable as possible, Reed said.

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