In a City Council session which stretched almost to midnight on December 11th, the city of Austin, Texas approved a new generation plan for its municipal utility which places it in a position of national leadership in the transition to clean energy.
Chiefly, Austin Energy’s solar goal has been raised from 200 MW by 2020 to 950 MW by 2025. This will include at least 750 MW of utility-scale PV, all of which must be located in Texas’ isolated grid, and 200 MW of solar PV within Austin’s city limits.
For the utility-scale PV, the plan recommends that Austin Energy solicit an additional 600 MW of projects in 2015. If the utility concludes that this 600 MW is "available and affordable", Austin Energy will seek to procure electricity from projects by 2017. If not, the 600 MW will be put online by 2025.
This will build on Austin Energy’s purchase of electricity from the 30 MW Webberville PV plant and a contract with Recurrent Energy to put another 150 MW online by the end of 2015.
Of the 200 MW of local solar, 100 MW must be customer-owned PV, and 70 MW must be put online by 2020. No new incentives or other policies to support increased deployment of local PV were specified at the meeting.
The new solar goals are part of an increase in overall renewable energy targets in electricity from 35% in 2020 to 55% in 2025. Additionally, Austin Energy will be required to invest in 30 MW of energy storage technology, which could include anything from batteries to chilling stations, and investigate another 170 MW.
Simultaneously, steam units at the 1970’s-era Decker natural gas plant will be retired in 2018, and the coal-burning Fayette Power Plant, which was completed in 1980, will ramp down in 2020 and begin to retire in 2022.
The plan is the result of months of negotiations between the City Council, Austin Energy, faith leaders, the Sierra Club, and seven other environmental organizations, and is expected to result in a 75-80% reduction in carbon emissions in the city’s electricity generation by 2025.
This plan reflects the support not only of City Council and Austin Energy, but also the thousands of citizens who organized, called and emailed demanding groundbreaking and affordable action to combat climate disruption, noted Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Acting Director Cyrus Reed in a press statement.
Austin is not the only city in Texas where a municipal utility is pursuing large-scale deployment of solar. OCI Solar Power is in the process of building 400 MW of solar PV under a deal with municipal utility CPS in San Antonio.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 12:20 PM from its original version to include details of utility-scale PV procurement.