Author Archive: Shane Johnson

Local Solar Update Happy Hour Slides

Thank you to everyone who came out to our March Happy Hour and to Danielle Murray for her fantastic update on all things local solar at Austin Energy! We enjoyed the interesting, information-packed happy hour and having the full house of attendees that this presentation deserved.

In case you missed the presentation or want to review the content, Danielle Murray graciously provided us the slides she used so look no further! If you have any questions, ideas, or other things to follow up on please comment below or contact us at

Solar Austin Happy Hour: Austin Local Solar Update

What is Austin Energy doing locally when it comes to solar? Our city-owned utility has existing goals to reach 110 MW of local solar by 2020 and 200 MW by 2025. Austin Energy has several programs to meet these goals. Recently, Austin Energy made exciting announcements, including the completion of the new 2.5 MW La Loma community solar project, a new low-income solar program powered by La Loma, and the pilot for solar available to multifamily dwellings and affordable housing, called Shared Solar. Significant changes are also being made to the residential solar incentive program.

With the completion of La Loma, Austin Energy has expanded its community solar program to 400 more residential customers. Although there is only room left on the waitlist at the regular rate, the half set aside for the Customer Assistance Program (CAP) participants (low-income customers) is still open. CAP customers can now reduce their bill by signing up for the community solar program. Shared Solar will allow residents in a multifamily dwelling to receive a prorated portion of the value of solar credit from a single installation.

Solar Austin is excited to announce Danielle Murray, Austin Energy’s Solar Program Manager, as our March Happy Hour speaker! She will provide an update on all things local solar at Austin Energy: on the La Loma Community Solar project, the low-income solar program, Shared Solar, the upcoming changes to the residential solar incentive program, and progress toward Austin’s local solar and other renewable energy goals.

Tuesday, March 27th, 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd
RSVP here.

Danielle Murray is Austin Energy’s Manager of Solar Energy Services, overseeing the utility’s renewable energy offerings and local solar programs. These include the wind-based GreenChoice program, Community Solar program, residential and commercial solar incentive programs, solar inspections, and the Value of Solar rates. Previously, Danielle was the Renewable Program Manager for the City and County of San Francisco, where she led efforts to develop the local solar market, reduce soft costs, and implement innovative financing mechanisms; coordinated wind, wave, and district energy research and development; and served as chair of the Mayor’s Renewable Energy Task Force. Prior to that, she worked for the City of Toronto’s Energy Office, where she designed and implemented the Toronto Neighborhoods Initiative which provided grants and low-interest loans to homeowners to install solar water heating systems and other energy efficiency improvements.

We hope you will join us Tuesday, March 27th for this update on Austin Energy’s solar programs. There’s lots of change happening right now, and this will be a great chance to ask your questions.

Following Community Advocacy, Austin Energy Rolls Out Community Solar for Low-income Residents

After two years of slogging through the permitting process, Austin Energy brought the La Loma solar project online last month—giving a massive boost to our city-owned utility’s Community Solar Program. But what is community solar, and how can you sign up? Can I afford to sign up as a low-income person/Customer Assistance Program (CAP) beneficiary? (Answer: YES!) How much does community solar cost for non-CAP participants, and what are the pros and cons of signing up? Keep reading and we will guide you through all of these questions.

Austin Energy’s recent press release on the completion of La Loma explains what community solar is on a very basic level and who can benefit: “Community Solar comes from a solar power plant where the electricity is shared by more than one household. Users do not need to own rooftops on which to place solar panels. Community solar provides solar power to renters, people with shaded roofs, and residents who can’t afford the upfront costs of rooftop solar. More than half of Austin Energy customers are renters and have limited access to rooftop solar.”

The La Loma Community Solar Project is a utility-scale array of “more than 9,000 panels, adding up to 2.5 megawatts, that will produce at least 4,400 megawatt-hours of [electricity] per year.” La Loma is located “just northeast of Springdale Road and Airport Boulevard and adjacent to the Utility’s Kingsbery substation,” and includes the exciting addition of “a 1.5 MW grid-scale battery at the Kingsbery substation to test solar and storage integration.”

Notably, the completion of La Loma comes with the announcement that Austin Energy will provide a discount for low-income community solar participants. As a result of advocacy from Solar Austin and the Springdale-Airport Neigh­bor­hood Association for programs that will improve access to solar, Austin City Council adopted a resolution directing Austin Energy to spend $500,000 in fiscal year 2018 on solar for “multi-family affordable housing, low-income residents, renters, and non-profits.” In order to meet this goal, Austin Energy is developing a shared solar feature in their billing system to allow access to solar benefits for multifamily housing residents and started this low-income community solar program.

Through this low-income solar program, half of La Loma’s capacity is reserved for CAP beneficiaries (those at or below 200% of the federal poverty level). This will allow about 200 CAP beneficiaries to “subscribe to 100 percent solar energy at a rate slightly below their current power supply rate.” CAP customers have until March 31st to sign up.

For the first time ever in Austin, not only can some low-income residents get access to solar, but they will also immediately save money by doing so—instead of paying an upfront coast. This is a huge step in the right direction from Austin Energy.

To register for community solar or the low-income solar program, all you need is your Austin Energy Utility Account Number before heading to Austin Energy’s community solar page to fill out the form where you can submit your interest. For more details on the low-income solar program check out the the La Loma press release or this Austin Chronicle article on the low-income solar program.

Now, what are the costs and benefits of community solar for Austin Energy customers who aren’t CAP beneficiaries? Benefits of signing up for community solar include:

  • Contribute to creating a cleaner environment, and slowing climate change.
  • Lock in a fixed rate for 15 years with the Community Solar rate, and avoid paying the Power Supply Adjustment (PSA) fee, which can be changed up to twice per year. This could result in money saved by community solar if the PSA increase.
  • Support the creation of Texas solar jobs.
  • Take a leadership role in supporting the Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan, and specifically the local solar goals (200 MW by 2025).

The cost, on the other hand, is that the Community Solar rate currently adds $10 -$18 to the average subscriber’s monthly energy bill.

The La Loma Community Solar Project is the most recent addition to Austin Energy’s community solar program, building on the initial 185 kW solar array on top of the Palmer Events Center. La Loma’s completion helped bring Austin Energy’s cumulative local solar capacity to 78 MW, enough to power 12,000 homes, on the way to the 2025 goal of 200 MW of local solar. Austin Energy officials hope that the expansion of community solar capacity, as opposed to a continued capacity-based residential rebate program, will lead to greater access to solar for renters, people’s whose homes are ill-suited for solar panels, and some low-income residents.

Solar Austin Happy Hour: Community Solar at PEC

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) is going big with community solar. By the end of 2018, the co-op expects to have 15 MW online at five sites throughout its service territory. These local solar installations will be used to provide power to participating co-op members (customers) at a set rate. This is great news for customers who don’t have access to on-site solar—whether it’s because they can’t afford it, don’t own their own homes, or don’t have roof or are on land that isn’t suited for solar. And since participating co-op members will reduce their electric bills compared to the regular PEC rates, it’s no wonder that over 1,000 members signed up in the first day that the program opened for subscriptions in December. If you’re a PEC member, you can sign up here.

PEC is investing in low cost solar to reduce more expensive power purchases from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which relies heavily on the coal-fired Fayette power plant. Once again, solar is benefiting the environment and reducing costs.

Solar Austin is excited to announce that Jim Spaulding, Director of Project Development Energy Services at PEC, will discuss the co-op’s new community solar installations at our February happy hour.

Tuesday, February 27th, 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd
RSVP here.

At PEC, Jim Spaulding is responsible for developing and implementing new value-driven energy products and services that will advance and improve the cooperative’s performance in meeting its energy demands and developing strategic goals. He is an experienced professional in the utility, energy solutions, and water markets, as well as wastewater facility enhancement, with a proven track record in team building, specialized sales recruiting, and driving growth.

We hope you will join us Tuesday, February 27th for this exciting discussion about PEC’s community solar initiative!

Solar Austin Happy Hour: Innovation in Solar Technology

These are exciting times in the energy world.  Utility-scale solar is cheaper than new conventional power plants—and sometimes even cheaper than operating existing coal and gas plants. Solar and wind energy continue to expand and become even more economic. There’s lots of buzz about energy storage and some utilities are starting to invest in it.  But what innovations are taking place in research laboratories, and what technology may soon leave these research labs and head to commercial use?

Several Central Texas institutions are part of the Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics—where industry and thought leaders are answering these questions. Solar Austin is excited to kick off 2018, a year certain to be filled with even more innovation in renewable energy, with a happy hour talk by Dr. Taylor Harvey from the Center and TAMU-Central Texas on innovation in solar technology. Dr. Harvey will share his outlook on the future of solar and discuss research into developing printed solar cells on paper and plastic substrates. He will also share some of his experiences running a printed solar startup based here in Austin.

Tuesday, January 23rd, 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd
RSVP here.

Dr. Harvey is the Chancellor’s Assistant Professor of Research at Texas A&M University—Central Texas. His primary area of research is solar energy with a focus on new solar materials (such as solar paints) and solar microsystems. He is the co-author of nine peer-reviewed articles and two patents. Before starting his current position, Dr. Harvey co-founded and led Lucelo Technologies, a printed solar start-up. Dr. Harvey received his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014 after spending four years as a reservoir engineer in the traditional energy industry.

We hope you will join us Tuesday, January 23rd for this fascinating discussion!