Austin's Energy Future ... and You!

Citizens to play a large role in determining where Austin gets its energy in the future

Sure we want renewable energy – but how much are we prepared to pay for it? And in shifting away from coal-fired plants, which do Austinites prefer: solar, wind, biomass, or nuclear power?

Over the next eight months, city-owned utility Austin Energy will be reaching out to engage the whole community in making some of these tough choices. Mayor Will Wynn and AE General Manager Roger Duncan on Tuesday announced details of an Austin Smart Energy public-participation process. Designed to solicit feedback on future power-generation options and costs, it also will serve as an Austin-wide crash course in today's energy landscape. Duncan wants to engage citizens in actively weighing the real challenges and trade-offs inherent in powering our growing community in the future. The series of public and small-group stakeholder meetings will begin in mid-October and conclude next March; City Council will make the final decision on a 2020 generation plan early next summer.

Participants will help refine a "straw man" AE proposal for how a mix of fuel sources can provide the more than 1,000 megawatts of new electricity generation that's likely to be needed (above and beyond conservation measures) by 2020. Driving the proposed increases in wind, solar, and biomass energy are City Council's Austin Climate Protec­tion Plan goals, which include delivering 30% of AE's generation from renewable resources, preventing some 700 MW of "peak demand" need through energy-efficiency and load-shifting programs, and capping AE greenhouse-gas emissions and advancing toward carbon-neutrality.

"We want to do everything possible to provide meaningful information that encourages participation," said Duncan. Citizen tools will include a resource guide presenting in layman's terms the pros and cons of a range of generation options and explaining transmission grid considerations and the relative impacts of federal and state legislation. An interactive website – to go live in early October – will let citizens try out various choices (add 20% solar? 10% wind?) to see how they affect utility rates.

Early next year, Austin Energy consultants and representatives will meet directly with customer groups: large industrial customers, chambers of commerce, neighborhood associations, nonprofits, environmental groups, and others. The education process also will prepare Austinites for possible future rate increases or a "clean energy bond election."

The process kicks off Wednesday, Oct. 22 (6:30pm, Austin City Hall), with the first of five facilitated, communitywide town hall meetings.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Smart Energy, renewable energy, Austin Energy, Austin Climate Protection Plan, Roger Duncan, Will Wynn

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