Municipal & Utility Progress
Goal: Make all city of Austin facilities, fleets, and operations 100% carbon-neutral by 2020. A supporting goal is to power all city facilities with renewable energy by 2012.
New wind-power contracts will allow Austin Energy to achieve this goal by 2009 – three years ahead of schedule. The 225 megawatts of new West Texas wind power secured will be provided over the next 15 years. Austin will become the first city in the country to power its facilities with 100% renewable energy.
Another ambitious goal set is to make the city's entire fleet of vehicles carbon-neutral by 2020. Again, said Duncan, "the availability of alternative fuels nationwide will determine the timeline, not action on Austin's part." For now the city is actively engaged in researching its conversion options, the earliest possible time frame to switch over to alternative fuels and technologies, and building an infrastructure (with corresponding real estate purchases) for fueling stations and electric plugs for plug-in hybrid vehicles. "We don't purchase a single vehicle now that's not alternative-energy ready," said Futrell.
Goal: Make Austin Energy the leading utility in the nation for greenhouse-gas reductions.
To meet the goal to reduce overall community energy use by 700 megawatts by 2020, explained Duncan, about 50% of new energy demands – to serve Austin's fast-growing population – must be provided by renewables or offset by new energy efficiencies. Yet Duncan is seriously concerned that the nation's renewable-energy supplies – such as wind and solar and the corresponding transmission and delivery infrastructure – may simply not match the need in time.
Only when AE secures sufficient alternative energy, said Duncan, can it act to partially shut down the coal-fueled Fayette Power Plant – the primary villain in AE greenhouse-gas emissions. (The city also operates three power plants fueled by natural gas.) "It's going to prove exceedingly difficult in a 12-year time frame," Duncan warned of the 2020 goal. "We're dependent on the availability of renewables around the U.S."
One possible devil's bargain: greater reliance on nuclear energy. Duncan said a public participation plan will be enacted soon, most likely in March, with town-hall meetings, public hearings, focus groups, and perhaps an interactive online resource to involve Austinites directly in AE's decision-making process. Deciding which energy resources will be adopted for the future, he noted, requires truly understanding the utility's load profile and the complexity of the issues. Until renewal energy resources can catch up, nuclear and coal and natural-gas plants must remain part of even the most energy-efficient mix.
In her involvement with the National League of Cities, Council Member Jennifer Kim has seen that "other cities are always so amazed that we can be so progressive." She noted that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi frequently cites Austin Energy in speeches as a positive model to show "it's possible – a financially sound utility is meeting renewable goals." Said Kim, "Austin citizens should be proud."
Homes and Buildings Plan
Goal: Make all new single-family homes zero net-energy capable, increase energy efficiency for all other new construction by 75%, and require retrofits when existing buildings are resold.
The city is moving forward, and has gotten homebuilder buy-in, on the Zero Energy Capable Homes initiative; see "Developing Stories: Community Convergences," Nov. 9, for details.
Goal: Reduce greenhouse-gas emissions citywide, by all citizens, in every activity. Includes transportation issues and land-use planning.
Go Neutral Plan
Goal: Motivate and help everyone in Austin – individuals, businesses large and small, organizations, even visitors – voluntarily take their net greenhouse-gas emissions down to zero.