City Passes Ambitious Renewable Energy Goals

Austin’s City Council unanimously approved Austin Energy’s long-term Strategic Plan. The plan contains ambitious renewable energy goals, including a renewable portfolio standard of 20 percent of the city’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, conservation goals to reach 15 percent energy efficiency by 2020, and a strong solar program with the nation’s highest rebates and a goal of 100 MW installed by 2020.

Austin, Texas – December 9, 2003 [] “Solar Austin is very excited to see this big step forward,” said Amanda Buehler, clean energy coordinator for Public Citizen’s Texas office and coordinator of the Solar Austin Campaign. “This plan will help us clean our air, stabilize our energy supplies, create jobs, and ultimately lower energy costs. Setting goals is also a crucial first step toward creating a clean energy cluster here in Austin. This plan puts Austin in the running to become the clean energy leader of the nation.” Austin Energy has taken several steps in the last few months to position itself as a leading utility in environmental and renewable energy goals. In September, the City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that commits Austin Energy to reducing its carbon emissions through aggressive renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, and to supporting binding limits on power sector CO2 emissions at the national level. It is the first utility in Texas (second in the nation) to embrace such a strong position on carbon emissions. “The decision to sign onto the WWF power shift challenge was a very significant commitment by the utility to reduce carbon emissions,” said Buehler. “Austin Energy leadership recognizes that global warming is a going to be a significant issue in the future. By getting ahead of the game, they are again demonstrating their forward-thinking, and we applaud their sensitivity to the environment.” One of Council’s stated goals in the “Clean Energy Resolution” passed August 28, 2003, is “An emphasis on economic development for successful development, recruitment, and retention of clean energy business enterprises.” While three solar manufacturing companies have expressed interest in the last two months in locating their solar manufacturing plants in Austin, none have yet made the commitment. “Solar companies have said that they need three components in place before they can make that decision: goals, a timeline, and investments,” said Chip Wolfe, co-founder of the Austin Clean Energy Initiative. “The current plan sets strong goals, but the timeline and funding commitments remain to be worked out.” “We recognize that Austin Energy has just successfully completed step one of a three part process,” continued Wolfe. “We’re all very excited about the goals they’ve put on the table. At the same time, our eyes are still on the ultimate prize of bringing solar manufacturing to town. We will need to keep working on the other two steps.” At a recent public hearing, several speakers raised points about the public input process that needs to be established as the community-owned utility moves on to the next steps. The public input process that led up to the passage of this plan included a several presentations at city commission meetings, and a Town Hall Meeting two days prior to the Council vote. “Austin Energy ratepayers effectively own the utility. They should have a say in how it’s managed, just like any other investor-owned enterprise,” said Buehler. “We have very high expectations of what adequate public input looks like, and it involves more meetings, more access to the information, and a longer period of time for the public’s comments to be incorporated into the plan. We’ve learned from this process that three days between the official posting of the Strategic Plan and the Council vote is simply not enough time. In the future, we look forward to taking them up on their offers of greater community involvement.”