The City of Austin says it will become the largest local government in the United States to be powered entirely by renewable electricity when it flicks the switch on Saturday. The move is estimated to cost taxpayers $6 million over ten years.
“It’s a commitment you make to further the goal of reducing carbon emissions,” Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell told KUT News. “That’s a value to everybody that lives in the city.”
The two major sources of carbon emissions in Austin come from vehicles and the production of electricity at Austin Energy facilities, Leffingwell said.
The city will buy wind power from West Texas through Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program, which is available to all its customers.
“We own the dirty plants and we get contracts for the clean stuff,” local energy consultant Mike Sloan explained. “It’s kind of backwards from what Austin wants to do in the long run, and it creates one of the challenges.”
Update at 1:52 p.m. The Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club sent KUT News a statement applauding Mayor Leffingwell's announcement, saying Austin has set a new standard that other cities must judge themselves against.
But the environmental group said the city should abandon coal-generated electricity entirely.
"We urge Austin to go one step further and phase out the Fayette Coal Plant, which powers many of Austin’s homes and businesses," the Sierra Club's Mary Anne Hitt wrote. "This plant burns huge quantities of coal, producing toxic emissions like mercury, which endangers the health of women and children."