This morning, Austin Energy is slated to present to their bosses — Austin City Council — on a proposed contract that would secure an additional 300 MWs of wind energy from West Texas near Lubbock. The proposed contract would cost an estimated $31 million per year in energy purchases from Lincoln Renewable Energy over 18 years and more importantly if approved would meet Austin Energy’s renewable energy of 35% by 2020 four years early. The cost of the wind is priced in the $26 to $36 per MWh range, which is typically cheaper than the price of electricity generated by gas and almost on par with the cost from the dirty Fayette Coal plant. And this price is guaranteed over 18 years. And if it breaks, we don’t have to pay for it. So no operations and maintenance required by us ratepayers.
Sierra Club is supportive of this and other contracts with renewable energy companies, and the word on the street is that Austin Energy will be taking another contract soon for a large solar energy plant or two in the coming months. Will all this activity, one does wonder however why Austin Energy has consistently said we don’t need to reassess our renewable energy goals? While one should certainly celebrate reaching a goal — I mean this beat’s California’s 33% goal set a number of years ago — why not take advantage of good financing and good projects to shoot for a higher goal — say 50% by 2020? While it is true that the vaunted production tax credit granted to wind developers ran out in 2013, any project — including this one — that began construction in 2013 still qualifies, and ERCOT’s interconnection records show us there are more than 5,000 MWs of wind projects being developed in 2014 and 2015 that likely would meet the PTC requirements. So let’s grab up these contracts while we can and wean ourselves off the need for coal, gas and buying off the market. Reaching out and securing these contracts doesn’t mean we don’t need coal and gas today, but it does mean we can envision a future where we won’t need them as much.. if at all. So keep it coming Austin Energy! We can not only reach our goals, but set more ambitious ones!
Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director