Getting Smart Energy

To dig into the real issues to be vetted during the Austin Smart Energy public participation process, it's helpful to spend a little time on Austin Energy's new website,

An introductory fact sheet lays out Austin Energy's 2020 load forecast – which anticipates a need for an additional 330 megawatts – and highlights of relevant City Council resolutions. It also presents the AE Draft Resource and Carbon Reduction Plan. This is what Roger Duncan calls his "straw man" plan – one reasonable proposal, to which the community can respond, for how to meet Austin's needs for affordable, reliable power for the next decade. (The plan also must meet council mandates for renewable energy and carbon-emissions reduction.) The mix of fuel sources is what citizens are invited to help shape.

Through 2020, the draft plan shows Austin increasing energy conservation significantly. The bad news: Those usage reductions will be canceled out by increased needs, due to Austin's growth. Conservation can keep us running in place – but would do nothing to reduce our carbon footprint. (Austinites could also advocate for more aggressive energy-use reductions: Anyone ready to give up air conditioning?) To cut emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming (and also reduce air pollution), Austin will need to trade "dirty" sources – especially coal – for clean sources, such as renewables (wind, solar, biomass) and possibly nuclear.

To truly understand all of the proposed and alternative generation options and their inherent trade-offs, read the meaty "Resource Guide," available on the Austin Smart Energy website. This delivers a reality check on the costs of shifting to renewables and explains the current limitations of wind and solar technology. It also discusses how nuclear energy – clean, but expensive and potentially dangerous – stacks up. By January, an interactive game will be posted to the site, which will let people immediately see the consequences of making various fuel mix choices.

On the Get Involved page, take a short online survey to share your preferences, see the town hall meetings schedule, or learn about AE outreach meetings with customer groups. The utility's plan is to bring information to community service organizations, major companies, neighborhood associations, chambers of commerce, real estate and facilities groups, environmental groups, large industrial customers, surrounding small cities, seniors, minority-focused groups and more. Want a presentation for your club of wiener-dog lovers? Call 322-6514.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

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