23 Apr Brief: Did Mayor Leffingwell fall short on the energy vote?
Yesterday was Earth Day, and a big vote took place @ City Hall. Here’s a brief:
The electricity plan voted on yesterday, reduces Austin’s fossil fuel use slightly over the next 10 years and increases the overall percentage of cleaner fuels. It does this by diversifying the assets Austin will rely on to produce electricity as it grows, i.e. – adding more solar, wind, biomass, and energy efficiency (this decade). It’s a "greener" step, but certainly not the best we can do on several levels.
Council unanimously approved this "greener" plan, with an important caveat: Austin Energy must first finalize a much reqst’d "Affordability Matrix" before the "greener" plan will take effect. The Matrix will be developed in collaboration with big employers and advocates for the poor.
The "Matrix" is a protective measure to improve AE’s fiscal responsibility. Why? Recently, Austin Energy seems to have invested loosely in a number things (including various green programs). Furthermore, AE is no longer recouping all the costs associated with its business (so starting to go into debt). Finally, AE is reluctant to make many of its local green programs function as business models (for ex., the utility currently loses money on incentivizing energy efficiency). It would appear adding this Matrix, a fiscal responsibility measure, is a great idea for the whole community.
The Mayor’s amendment allows 8 months for the Matrix to be completed, a project which could certainly be finalized quicker and is deserving of higher priority status. In an era of worsening financial, environmental, and community-health problems – all related to the ways we make electricity, Mayor Leffingwell’s 8 month timeline puts a critical project on a very slow track, possibly neutralizing any effective changes regarding the community’s electricity concerns for the rest of this year.
The Mayor’s amendment to the plan is fundamentally a very responsible action for the whole of the Austin community, thank you Mayor Leff. Also Council unanimously approved a green-er direction for Austin Energy (as opposed to a dirtier direction).
But … Did the Mayor Fall short?
Mayor Leffingwell is short on action when it comes to responding to today’s economic, environmental and public health concerns related to electricity. He’s doing a great job of listening to the broader community, but … There are boatloads of scientific data to substantiate the idea that Austin needs to act as effectively as possible in reducing its power plant pollutions, now. And on another hand, the opportunity costs associated with stalling the implementation of brilliant financial management and ecologically sustainable business models at the City cannot be underestimated.
Mayor Leffingwell and Council have signaled their support for the two primary concerns of the community when it comes to electricity: environmental health and bill affordability. Some laudable progress was made at City Hall yesterday for reducing coal and other forms of dirty energy dependency, and incorporating the financial concerns associated with transitioning Austin Energy. Perhaps Austinites are just teeing up to talk about Austin Energy across the broader community, and how to reduce electricity’s negative impacts. This conversation may take years. Lots of stakeholders were present at yesterday’s vote: enviro’s, Strayhorns, staffers, big employers, religious advocates, low income advocates, carbon reduction advocates, anti-coal advocates… all asking for slightly different things… The necessity of solving today’s electricity problems will likely continue to grow into a forum for bringing disparate, local parties into common discussions in the future. That should be exciting.