Speeding Up Holly Shutdown
Even a 2007 closing date for Holly represents significant backpedaling from the City Council's 1995 plan to have the whole plant gone by 2005, and Eastside activists remind the council of this fact every week during their citizens'-communications calls to shut Holly down now. But Alvarez, his colleagues, and Austin Energy have all long argued that this is impossible; the community's explosive growth increased AE's peak generation by more than 30% between 1995 and 2000, a demand for electricity the utility felt it couldn't safely manage without all four Holly units. Though Holly is viewed by AE and state experts as being remarkably clean and safe despite being more than 40 years old, the plant has caught fire twice since 1995, scaring the bejesus out of the neighborhood and magnifying local complaints about noise, pollution, damage to property values, and environmental racism. And ever since his 2000 election, Alvarez -- both as a Latino council member and as a solid enviro vote -- has felt unusual pressure to solve the Holly problem.
During the boom, however, AE used cash on hand to fund the construction of the new Sand Hill power plant, which by next year will add nearly 500 megawatts of generating capacity to the utility system. This, combined with Austin Energy's commitment to buy nearly 100 megawatts of new wind power, its ongoing energy conservation programs, and its major investments in its transmission and distribution system, should make it easier to pull the plug on Holly sooner rather than later, Alvarez says. "We are doing everything we can," he said Monday, "to get this plant out of the neighborhood." Austin Energy is set to present its long-range strategic plan to the City Council in November, and Alvarez says his Holly proposal will be included.
Underscoring Alvarez's effort, the Alliance to Save Energy, a national coalition of business and governmental and environmental groups, will bestow its highest honor on the city of Austin and Austin Energy at its annual awards dinner in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 4. The group praises AE for its aggressive energy efficiency programs, noting that since 1982, they have saved enough electricity to account for the annual output of a 500-megawatt power plant. For more info, go to www.ase.org.