Today, the group tasked with figuring out how to wean Austin off carbon dioxide-emitting coal power is scheduled to vote on its recommendations, and some members of that group think they have found a new approach to the biggest road block between Austin and a coal-free future: the Fayette Coal Plant.
Austin Energy owns the plant along with the Lower Colorado River Authority, and gets about 20 percent of its electricity from it. While selling off the plant or retiring it completely has been a long held dream of city officials and environmentalists, city staff has warned that it could be prohibitively expensive and legally tricky. Previous plans to sell off that stake, or shut down the plant have also been opposed by the LCRA.
The plan that Austin’s Generation Resource Planning Task Force votes on today recommends a work-around. Essentially, it suggests concentrating all of Austin’s ownership into one generating unit of the plant — Fayette has three separate electricity generating units — then retiring that one unit.
“We don’t have any certainty that we can get out of this thing," says Michael Osborne, who chairs the Task Force. "But we’re hoping that if we do get control of our own destiny by getting one of the [units], that certainly we’ll be able to ramp it down if nothing else, so that we can reduce the carbon.”
He says the plan could go against the city’s agreement with the LCRA. But the Task Force thinks that partnership agreement may not have been legal in the first place.
The report concerns itself with more than Fayette. Among the recommendations that will be voted on today is a plan to retire the Decker Power natural gas plant by 2016. And a suggestion to make solar power the city’s default new power resource. All of these goals would be contingent on affordability requirements for Austin Energy customers.
Regardless of how the suggestions pan out, it seems unlikely that Austin will become the first "coal free" city in Texas. El Paso has announced that it will be completely free of coal by 2016.
The task force meets at 2:30 today at Austin city hall.