Austin Energy

Daniel Hoherd/flickr

This story has been updated since it was originally published and corrected due to an editing error.

From the Austin Monitor: A bill that could have major implications for Austin Energy and the city budget passed its first hurdle on Tuesday and now goes to the Senate floor. It could give certain Austin Energy customers the ability to break away from the utility and buy energy on the deregulated market.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development passed Senate Bill 1945 on a six-vote majority, with Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) casting the sole opposing vote.

Austin Monitor

One of the city of Austin's sustainability goals is pretty ambitious - to be a net-zero greenhouse emissions city by 2050. In order to get there, it would take a city-wide buy in and that's why the city wants to get the community's pulse through a survey.

The 10 question-long survey is in English and Spanish, asking things like "Would you e-commute, or ride a bus?" and "What about putting up solar panels?" The answers to those questions aim to help the city start crafting a plan.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/jvk

With hundreds of thousands of customers, Austin Energy must rely on computer programs to filter through their customer database when it sends out bills. As intricately as some of these systems are designed, there are a few recent instances in which those programs have led to unintended consequences.

If you're an Austin Energy customer you may have noticed one item on your bill called a "Community Benefit Charge,” a fee which partly helps low-income Austin Energy customers pay their bills. Some of that money, however, is actually going to wealthy customers.

Austin Monitor

From The Austin Monitor:

A key Austin Energy reserve fund that would be used to pay for the potential decommissioning of the Decker Lake gas generation plant has no money that could be used in that effort, according to Austin Energy.

Utility spokesman Carlos Cordova told the Austin Monitor in an email that a City Council-approved Austin Energy fiscal policy for funding such a decommissioning of a non-nuclear plant “should occur four years before the start of plant closure.”

Cordova continued: “The amount to set aside should be based upon a decommissioning study of the plant site. There are currently no funds in that decommissioning reserve and a decommissioning study has not been done. Council resolution 20140828-157, which includes replacing Decker with 600 megawatts of contracted utility-scale solar, will require funding of this reserve in the near future.”

Austin Energy officials would not hazard a guess at the full cost of decommissioning the plant. However, should the utility elect to replace the facility, it has estimated the cost of the construction of new transmission lines to be in the neighborhood of $150 million.

Austin Monitor

From The Austin Monitor:

(This story was updated Oct. 2 to correct an editing error that overstated the risk of the city’s billing system overcharging residents for their water bills. The audit found no large-scale issues with water meter accuracy.)

Austin Monitor

Austin Energy officials presented City Council members Tuesday with a new proposal for a generation mix that would approach the renewable energy numbers suggested by a July task force report.

Though no solid generation plan has been presented — let alone approved — the utility’s latest suggestion would bring in 500 new megawatts of solar power, retire the coal-powered Fayette Power Plant by 2025 and retire the Decker gas generating facility by 2019, though a new gas facility could well replace it.

flickr.com/pyxopotamus

Aside from the month of August, this summer has been relatively cool as far as Texas summers go.

With that reprieve from stifling heat came an unanticipated gap in revenue for utility providers, and it's forced Austin Energy – which earns nearly half of its revenue in the hottest months of the year – to reexamine its budget.

flickr.com/demmbatz

Austin Energy will soon be getting more of its power from the sun.

The city-owned electric utility has signed a deal, announced today, with a San Francisco-based firm to build the single largest solar facility in Texas by 2016. Under a 20-year power purchase agreement, Recurrent Energy will build a 150-megawatt solar farm in West Texas.

Austin Energy spokesperson Carlos Cordova says the deal will help the public utility and the Austin City Council to achieve two goals – "to have 200 megawatts of all of our energy derived from solar power, and 35 percent of all of our energy be derived by renewable energy."

flickr.com/dan_h

From StateImpact Texas:

For years, Texas has struggled with how to solve its energy crunch: forecasts said not enough power plants were being built to meet the demands of a growing population and a booming state. But it turns out the state’s supplies are likely adequate. Despite all the growth in Texas, peak power demand hasn’t increased as fast as expected.

To understand why, it helps to start with those long, hot Texas summer afternoons just six months ago.

Photo by KUT News

This is an excerpt from an article written by our Austin City Hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor (formerly In Fact Daily).

The City of Austin faces formidable legal hurdles and, potentially, significant costs if the City Council decides to sell or shut down the city’s share of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project, according to a new city Law Department memo.

From StateImpact Texas:

The promise of harnessing the power of the sun and turning it into renewable energy has attracted countless businesses, governments and environmental groups. But it might be a church here in Austin that ends up bringing one of the next breakthroughs in solar technology.

To understand the scope of this project, it helps to know that Saint David’s is no little roadside chapel. The Episcopal Church in downtown Austin fills up a whole city block. It provides your typical church services and then some.

“We have a coffee shop, we have a restaurant, we have a pre-school for children,” says Terry Nathan, the parish administrator. “The better part of our basement is dedicated to a homeless center." The Church keeps a staff of caterers for its side business hosting events, and has a bookstore and parking garage, which they make available for commercial use. All that takes a lot of electricity.

So about ten years ago, church members got the idea to put solar panels on the parking garage. But they didn’t take the plunge until last year. That’s when low interest rates, improved technology, and government rebates all came together.

Forklift Danceworks

Over the past several years, Allison Orr's Forklift Danceworks has staged performances featuring, among others, roller skaters, Elvis impersonators, and sanitation workers. The Trash Project, the large-scale performance they produced with the City of Austin Sanitation Department, won multiple awards and was the subject of the documentary film Trash Dance.

I-Hwa Cheng, KUT News

The City of Austin cooled the idea of creating a board to oversee Austin Energy.

The original idea was to form a board whose members are more knowledgeable than city council members are about the electric utility industry, but after concerns that its members would be insufficiently accountable to voters, the plan changed, leaving the proposed board with less authority.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

How powerful should an independent Austin Energy board be?

That’s the question the Austin City Council is asking itself. Right now, the council governs the city-owned utility. But council members are talking about turning over that power to an independent board. And haggling over the power of this unelected panel continues to dominate talk at City Hall.

Polcie photo Nathan Bernier; EMS photo Daniel Reese; Fire photo Callier Hernandez

Last week, the Austin City Council got its first look at the numbers for next year’s budget.

The financial outlook? Well … we’ll get back to you about that.

The thing is, Austin’s currently negotiating its three public safety contracts – police, fire and EMS. And budget staff call those contracts a wild card in the city’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

STP Nuclear Operating Company http://www.stpnoc.com/photo.php?pageID=30

Austin Energy is getting some of its power again from the South Texas Project. STP is a nuclear power source in the Bay City area where one of four reactors was offline for the past few months because of a fire outside the unit.

On Tuesday it started operating again.

Jessie Wang, KUT News

The Austin city council moved one step closer Thursday night toward creating an independent board to oversee the city-owned electric utility – Austin Energy. The council approved the transition on first reading – with council member Kathie Tovo absent. The ordinance has to be approved on three readings.

Ihwa Cheng for KUT News

The Austin City Council took the first step last night towards moving the governance of Austin Energy from the council to an independent board.

The council unanimously approved the transition on first reading – with council member Kathie Tovo absent. The ordinance will have to be approved on three readings.

Council members did make several changes to the original proposal last night – weakening the power of the independent board and giving more oversight back to council.

Ann Choi KUT News

A group of activists are adamant that only elected officials make up Austin’s Utility board.

Today at City Hall, a coalition of environmental groups urged the city council not to vote for an ordinance that would have non-elected individuals oversee the city-run utility, Austin Energy.

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

The Austin City Council has approved a study of public energy utilities governed by an independent board. But the city will have to work quickly.

The item comes as the council looks to create an independent governing board for Austin Energy. The council has traditionally overseen the utility, but that was before Austin Energy’s recent rate increase, which created political pressure that some feel could ultimately deregulate the city-run utility. Now a council majority appears supportive of handing off day-to-day operations.

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