Tag Archives: Austin Energy

Austin City Council and Electric Utility Commission name 8 of 9 members of Austin Energy Generation and Resource Planning Task Force; approves 150 MW solar plant

This week, the Austin City Council officially named 7 of the 9 members of the Austin Generation and Resource Planning Task Force, while the Electric Utility Commission named their member, solar advocate and local attorney Clay Butler. Remaining to be named is a member of the Resource Management Commission, which is expected to meet on April 15th to choose their member. Word on the street is the first meeting of the new Task Force will be April 16th. Task force is expected to make final recommendations on Austin Energy’s Generaton Plan through 2024 in June. Sierra Club will be on the committee through our Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed, who served on the original task force in 2010. The Task Force will look at future of solar, wind, energy efficiency, gas and coal in Austin’s generation portfolio. 

In other news, Austin City Council did approve the 150 MW SunEdison solar contract at a reported 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour. The two utility-scale projects would be built in West Texas and be operational by 2016, at which time Austin Energy would meet its 35% renewable energy goals. 

 

1. Barry Dreyling, Spansion (Mayor Leffingwell)

2. Cyrus Reed, Sierra Club (Mayor Pro Tem Cole)

3. Michele Van Hyfte, Seton (Council Member Spelman)

4. MIchael Osborne, Former VP at Austin Energy (Council Member Riley)

5. Tom “Smitty” Smith, Public Citizen (Council Member Morrison)

6. Carol Biedrzyck, Texas ROSE (Council Member Martinez)

7. Mike Sloan, Virtus Energy (Council Member Tovo)

8. Clay Butler, Butler Firm (Electric Utility Commission representative)

9. To Be Named,  Resource Management Commission 

Austin City Council approves negotiation with SunEdison for 150 MWs of West Texas Sunshine!

Yesterday, the Austin City Council approved a resolution to direct Austin Energy to negotiate a deal to procure up to 150 MWs of solar power from West Texas through a Power Purchase Agreement with SunEdison. Austin Energy will return next week to City Council with a more detailed contract for final approval. Under the limited information that has been released publicly and discussed at City Council yesterday, Austin Energy GM Larry Weis explained that the deal was a take and pay contract where Austin Energy is only obligated to pay for any electricity generated by the plant at a fixed rate of roughly $50 per MWh or 5 cents per KWh. That is well below the retail rate paid for by Austin Energy consumers and is often below the wholesale market rate of energy in Texas, especially during hot summer days when solar produces the most electricity.

While recent press articles suggest that some California utilities are pursuing even cheaper PPAs, the announced price of $45 to $55 per MWh would represent the lowest price in the US that we could find thus far and is a game-changer in the energy industry. As an example, Austin Energy’s deal with the Webberville solar PV plant costs roughly $165 per MWh, and was only built four years ago. While AE was originally only looking for 50 MW of solar capacity in this latest request, they took a larger position because the price is so much cheaper than expected. Weis said on Thursday that while more solar was available at similar prices, his recommendation for the moment was not to go beyond the 150 MWs of additional solar to be built by 2016 until Austin Energy does a fuller review of all its energy needs, future costs and scenarios. Previously City Council has asked Austin Energy to consider doubling their solar goal from 200 to 400 MWs by 2020, as recommended by the Local Solar Advisory Council, a position supported by the Sierra Club. Austin Energy has said wait until we update our generation plan.

 

The Webberville Project: Near Austin, Texas

Image

Separately, the Austin City Council is expected to name an Austin Energy Generation Task Force to begin looking at Austin Energy’s medium-range plans for future generation through 2024, including solar energy, its use of the existing coal and gas plants and the role of energy storage and demand response. In fact, Mayor Lee Leffingwell went ahead and announced his pick to the Generation Task Force: Spansion Facilities Engineer Barry Dreyling, who should be well versed on energy issues for large industrial consumers. Stay tuned for more info next week

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter

Texas Renewable Energy Keeps Growing: Both Austin and ERCOT Showing it Can Be Done

Ok I’ve written about this before but the pace is getting to be mind-boggling. Every month, ERCOT releases its Monthly Status System Planning Report and the amount of proposed generation keeps growing. And in particular what appears to be winning is wind power, and increasingly solar. The February 2014 Monthly Status Report shows that ERCOT is currently tracking 219 proposed projects totaling over 55,300 MWs, about half – 26,700 MWs in all — of which is wind. The latest to sign what is known as a Generation Interconnection Agreement with the local transmission company is the Briscoe Wind Farm, a 300 MW facility located in West Texas. Just earlier this month we announced that Austin Energy had negotiated a cheap wind deal with Lincoln Renewable for 300 MWs in Castro County.

Here are the latest numbers from ERCOT.

Confidential Projects Projects under Study Projects with Signed Agreement Total
Natural Gas 3,544 11,437 9,521 24,502
Coal 0 30 240 270
Wind 5,538 12,777 8,413 26,728
Solar 1,335 1,414 198 2,947
Storage 0 874 0 874
Nuclear 0 0 0 0
Petroleum Coke 0 0 0 0
Total 10,417 26,532 18,372 55,321

What is pretty interesting is the geographic distribution of these projects. If you look at ERCOT’s five traditional load zones — Panhandle, West Texas, North Zone, South Zone and Coastal Zone, future natural gas projects dominate in the South and North Zone — where wind and solar resources are just not as strong. But from the Coastal Zone — where gas and wind split the pie — to West Texas and especially the Panhandle, wind and increasingly solar beat out gas projects.

Coal you might ask? Two projects – a tiny 30 MW proposed project in Milam County and the long-awaited IGCC project by Summit in Ector County, which has been delayed three times, and is currently scheduled for 2018.. maybe. Petroleum Coke, like those proposed Las Brisas and White Stallion projects that SIerra Club fought?  Dead. none. What about nuclear? Didn’t NRG and Luminant promise to build us new reactors? Dead.

In fact, other than gas, wind and solar, the only projects are three proposed storage facilities which could revolutionize the use of renewable energy, making it dispatchable just like gas.

Image

Webberville Project — three times more expensive than the new one they are talking about.

Now back to Austin Energy. While two weeks ago we told you about a deal to purchase wind at a bargain rate of $26 to $36 per MWh that City Council recently approved — a price rivaling what we pay for our dirty coal power — this Thursday Austin Energy will be proposing to City Council that they authorize negotiations over two utility-scale solar plants to be constructed by SunEdison. While the exact price can not be revealed, Austin Energy is reporting that it is between $45 and $55 per MWh, making it the cheapest solar deal in the country. The two plants will total up to 150 MWs of capacity, and be located in West Texas. If these deals come to fruition, Austin Energy would not only meet its 35% renewable energy commitment four years early by the time the plants come online in 2016, but even its 200 MW solar goal. With the Local Solar Advisory Committee recommending that Austin Energy double its goal to 400 MWs by 2020, Austin Energy’s initial negative reaction — based on a belief that solar would cost more in the $80 to $100 per MWh range — now seems well.. so last year. In fact, Austin Energy reports that they had over 125 proposals for utility-scale solar from 66 separate projects, and $100 per MWh was the very highest they got. In fact, most were in the $60 dollar range. Remember in 2009, we negotiated a deal for 30 MWs of solar for around $165 per MWh. So that means for Austin Energy solar energy prices got chopped by some 70% between 2010 and 2016 when the latest solar projects get built.

Folks, the news for renewable energy in Texas just keeps getting better. Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter

Victory! Austin City Council Votes 6-0 In Favor of Generation Plan Task Force

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 12.56.57 PM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

March 6, 2014

Contact: Dave Cortez, David.Cortez@SierraClub.Org, 512-736-7600

Austin City Council Votes to Create Austin Energy Task Force

AUSTIN, TX – Today, in a 6-0 vote, city council members voted to create the Austin Energy Resource Generation Task Force as part of the 2014 update process to the city’s existing energy plan.

The task force is directed to provide recommendations to council members for how Austin Energy should meet existing goals for renewable energy by 2020, as well as opportunities for strengthening and expanding those goals through 2024. Task force members will include one member from the Electric Utilities Commission and one from the Resource Management Commission, as well as seven other members appointed by city council.

Sierra Club Beyond Coal Organizer David Cortez
issued the following statement in response:

“Public participation is always a win-win in our book. Today, the people of Austin and Central Texas communities impacted by climate disruption won a major procedural victory for clean energy, transparency and good governance. This task force will provide environmental, low-income, renewable energy and industry stakeholders their best opportunity to review Austin Energy’s approach and set a clear path for making Austin a leader in the clean energy economy.

Austin Energy ratepayers have made it clear that they want this process to expand our clean energy goals, phase out our over-reliance on dirty coal and fracked gas, as well as preserve our affordability targets. We see this task force as the best way to ensure those demands are met.

The Sierra Club and our 4,500 Central Texas members and supporters applaud City Council for their leadership in making this process more accessible to all Austin Energy ratepayers.”

###

 

Austin City Councils hears from Austin Energy on new proposed 300 MW wind contract: 35% renewable energy by 2016

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