Guest Post – from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club
Written by Shane Johnson, Clean Energy Distributed Organizer with the Sierra Club
For community advocates and policy wonks alike, Austin Energy’s recently-announced Working Group to Update the Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan (Resource Plan) for early 2020 may open a door to even more cost-effective renewable energy and energy efficiency goals—with plenty of opportunity for the community to influence the process.
In 2017, the Austin City Council passed a comprehensive Resource Plan update developed by Austin Energy (AE) staff with input from the Electric Utility Commission (EUC), which reviews and analyzes AE policies and procedures, and the Resource Management Commission (RMC). Included in the 2017 update was another revision scheduled for 2020. Now, AE, Austin’s municipally-owned utility, is back at it after announcing the membership and meeting dates for the new Resource Planning Working Group charged with developing recommendations for updating the Resource Plan again. Sierra Club staff and volunteers will be involved, with representation on the Working Group, the EUC, and the RMC.
So what is the Resource Plan, anyway?
The Resource Plan is a road map guiding all of Austin’s municipally-owned utility’s programs and investments through 2027, including how AE can generate its electricity and shift to using more renewable energy, reduce energy usage, and maintain affordability. Here is an overview of the most significant goals of the 2017 Resource Plan update that represent Austin’s starting place for the 2020 update:
- 65 percent renewable energy by 2027 and studies to model higher goals (see below)
- Retirement of Fayette coal plant and Decker natural gas plant by end of 2022
- At least 40 MW of electric and thermal storage by 2027
- At least 900 MW of energy efficiency and demand response by the end of 2025, and an additional 100 MW of energy efficiency if achievable and affordable
- At least 200 MW/ of local (within Travis County) solar by 2025, including 110 MW of customer-sited solar
In addition, AE is currently finalizing various studies by the end of the month, as part of the 2017 update, on achieving more advanced renewable energy goals. The results of these studies will go to the Working Group to form the basis of their update recommendations. These studies include the feasibility of reaching at least 75 percent to 80 percent renewable energy by 2027, carbon-free by 2030 (which includes renewables and the nuclear power plant) and 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Other studies look at expanding our use of electric storage, demand response, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency.
Right now there is a huge opportunity to update the Resource Plan in a way that holds Austin Energy accountable to goals that are supported by many in the community to achieve a just, carbon-free, clean energy future.
Although there were several good goals in the last update, Austin can do even better to reduce energy-sector pollution. In particular, AE must close the dirty Decker and Fayette plants polluting East Austin and lower-income areas outside of Austin without any further delay. Austin also needs to make clean energy and energy efficiency more accessible to lower bills and provide electric transportation to make transit more equitable and reduce transportation-sector emissions. Austin must also create more accountability over AE to actually follow through on what our utility has been instructed to do. One of the biggest flaws with each update process has been the lack of representation of people of color, low-income people, and other communities typically left out of energy planning process in Austin.
What can you do to help improve the Resource Plan?
There are several significant opportunities for community members to bring their concerns to the table:
- Potentially seek membership on the EUC Resource Planning Working Group (ideal for current City Commissioners) by contacting EUC chair Cary Ferchill at email@example.com. Although the EUC has already filled the current positions on this Working Group, we hope to advocate for additional Working Group members or find alternative options for candidates who are unable to join the Working Group or have left it.
- Coming regularly to speak at the Working Group meetings is crucial for Working Group Members to hear perspectives from community leaders and members. Attending these meetings will make sure your voices are heard. The Working Group will meet every two weeks starting Thursday, September 9, 4-6pm, at the Town Lake Center (Austin Energy office) 721 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704.
- Attend, give public input, and participate at EUC, RMC, and AE Utility Oversight Committee (committee of City Council) meetings.
- Call, email, and meet with City Council members to let them know you want a fair and transparent Resource Plan update process, with ambitious yet achievable goals for Austin Energy.
When contacting a Working Group, city commission, or City Council member, there are a myriad of policy goals and updates we can advocate for, including the following:
- Study a plan to go carbon neutral by 2025, as advocated by Extinction Rebellion & Austin DSA
- Ensure that a large portion of the annual energy efficiency and solar budget is focused on low-to-moderate income Austinites and neighborhoods who lack access to clean energy options
- Reinforce the goal of ending coal use by the end of 2022, and permanently retire 600 MW of coal, either by owning one unit or virtually ensuring 600 MW of coal are off the market
- Put in place accountability measures for the goal of shutting down the Decker 1 natural gas unit by the end of 2020 and the Decker 2 unit by the end of 2021
- Go carbon-free by 2030, including retirement of the Decker “peaker plant units” and the Sandhill Combined Cycle fracked gas plants
- Study how to replace the rate-based affordability goal — which requires that rates raise no more than 2 percent per year and that Austin have rates in the bottom half of similarly-sized Texas utilities — with a goal based on energy bills and on energy use and the burden of paying bills for residential customers. Ultimately, helping Austinites lower their energy use — and therefore their bill and the burden of paying it — is more important than the “rate” itself.
- Continue to update building codes, including EV-ready requirements to go along with solar-ready ones
- Increase local and customer-sited solar goals
- Establishment of a no upfront cost solar program
- Increase of community solar options
- Permanent establishment of shared solar program for multi-family housing
- Increase energy storage goals from our current goal of 40 MW of electric and thermal storage to 100-200 MW, which will help us phase out the use of gas “peaker” plants.
- Strengthen the 1,000 MW goal for energy efficiency and demand response by 2027, and establish a 1,200 MW goal for 2030
If you have additional policy ideas or community concerns not reflected in the list above, please feel free to reach out to the Lone Star Chapter’s Clean Energy Distributed Organizer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog was originally posted on September 12th, 2019 on the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club’s blog page.
Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork.