Austin Energy

Austin Energy Cutting Solar Credits

Is Austin Energy joining the war on solar?

Bit by bit, our publicly owned, nationally renowned, supposedly green electric utility is trying to roll back programs that support customer owned solar.

Austin Energy is cutting the value of solar tariff, which compensates solar owners for the energy they produce, by 16 percent on January 1.

A lower solar tariff means fewer people will choose to purchase solar panels, which means our environment and local economy will suffer.

Tell the Austin City Council to stand up for clean energy and pass a resolution delaying reduction of the solar tariff.

Cutting the solar tariff isn’t the only attack under way. On January 1, Austin Energy will also confiscate all solar credits. Customers earned those credits by providing energy that the utility took and sold. Now Austin Energy is planning to take those credits away.

And just this week, the utility cut solar rebates for the second time this year. These cuts were reportedly made to keep the program from running out of funds, but Austin Energy could have asked for more funding for the solar rebate budget.

The Austin City Council governs Austin Energy, so it’s up to it to keep the utility honest.

Demand a resolution delaying the solar tariff change until after the public has had a chance to give input.

While other utilities are fighting to keep customers from generating their own electricity, Austin Energy should not play that game.

Austin Energy’s solar programs have given it and our city great publicity and helped to build a growing solar economy in the Austin area. Let’s not lose that momentum.

Our utility needs to start listening to us – the people who own it.

Send the Austin City Council an email right now.

Please note that emails will be sent using a Public Citizen action page. You can remove yourself from their list at any time.

We only have a few days to stop this attack before the City Council takes its winter break. Please help by sharing this post with friends, family and neighbors in the Austin area. If you work for a solar company, please forward this email to your customers.

Austin Solar Victories

Many of you probably remember our concern when Austin Energy proposed slashing the solar budget by 42% for fiscal year 2014 – which we’re now in. But public outcry and our meetings with Austin City Council members made a difference. The budget was fully restored and we can expect to have another great year for solar in Austin.  That was back in September.

Sun in fistJust yesterday, Austin City Council passed a resolution that expands the city’s commitment to development local solar.  Of our existing solar goal of 200 megawatts (MW) by 2020, half will now have to be locally sited and half of that local solar will have to be distributed systems that are owned or leased by customers.

That’s great news for local jobs, because there’s no way to outsource installation of small, local solar systems.  Someone has to be here to do a site inspection, file the paperwork with Austin Energy and actually install the system on someone’s room or in their yard.

City Council also instructed the City Manager to consider adopting the 400 MW by 2020 solar goal put forth by the Austin Local Solar Advisory Committee (LSAC) into the Generation Plan update next year.

We have Council Members Chris Riley, Laura Morrison and Bill Spelman to thank for leading this effort, but the resolution was adopted unanimously, and I know that others on the Council are eager to see solar thrive in Austin.  Send the City Council a thank you note.

With the help of the many people in Austin who are concerned about climate change, air pollution, water use, creating good local jobs, and keeping electric rates affordable, we’re going to make sure the 400 MW solar goal is included in the Generation Plan in 2014.

In the meantime, we can turn our focus to ensuring that solar owners continue to be credited a fair value for the energy they put out on the grid for the rest of us to use and that more attractive solar financing options are made available.  Better financing, options for solar leasing and a community solar program are all essential for expanding access to solar for lower and middle-income families and all of us who rent.

Massive Cuts Proposed for Austin Energy Solar Budget

It’s an important time for solar in Austin, so we will try to keep you updated as things progress.

Here’s the latest:

Instead of embracing the expanded solar goals recommended by the Austin Local Solar Advisory Committee (LSAC), Austin Energy has proposed slashing the solar rebate budget by 42% for the upcoming budget for fiscal year 2014. 

The solar rebate budget supports both residential and commercial solar installations and has become increasingly popular.  The program was projected to run out of money earlier this year, prompting Austin Energy to reduce the amount of the residential rebate from $2 per installed watt to $1.50 per installed watt.

Although solar costs have declined rapidly and are projected to continue that trend, rebates are still needed in the short term to help our local solar economy reach maturity.  Rebates will likely be phased out between now and 2020, but now is not the time for dramatic cuts to a popular and successful program.

There are going to be several opportunities coming up to voice your support for solar:

  • Monday, August 19th at 6pm in the Shudde Fath Conference Room at Austin Energy (721 Barton Springs Road): Electric Utility Commission meeting will include discussion of recommendations for the Austin Energy budget.  Public input is welcomed at the beginning of the meeting and for each agenda item.
  • Wednesday, August 21st at 3pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at Austin City Hall (301 West 2nd St): Emerging Technology and Telecommunications Committee meeting will include discussion of costs and benefits of solar compared to other energy sources.  Public input is welcomed.
  • (probably) Thursday, August 29th at 4pm in Council Chambers at Austin City Hall (301 West 2nd St): Public hearing on the proposed city budget.  The purpose of this hearing will be to gather public input. We will update the day and time on this post if it changes.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already sent an email to the Mayor and City Council in support of expanding solar goals and funding, you can do so using this Public Citizen “action page.”

Spread the word and help our city be more sustainable.

Solar a Shining Opportunity for Austin – Solar Goals and Programs Need Expanding

Business leaders, environmentalists and low income advocates are behind a push to get Austin to increase its solar energy goal to 400 megawatts by 2020 and expand solar programs to meet that goal.

A diverse group of community leaders appointed to the Local Solar Advisory Committee (LSAC) by City Council examined solar opportunities in Austin and unanimously recommended that we double our 2020 solar goal, creating an estimated $300 million in net economic benefits and staying well within our current affordability goals.

“The Austin Energy leadership is saying we can’t afford to do this now,” says Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.  “But they are only looking at replacement power costs.  The value of solar is far more than replacing wholesale power.  It increases revenue for the city from off system sales of peak power we won’t need at home. Expanding solar goals will mean reduced costs for peak power, fuel, hedging, insurance, maintenance and transmission, as well as reduced water use and pollution.  The LSAC looked at all of those factors and that’s why the business, solar and environmental community all agreed that we should expand our goals now.”

2013-08-06 400MW Solar is 5.2-6 Percent of Austin Energy Demand by 2020 (sun pie graph)The LSAC report shows that expanding the solar goal to 400 MW by 2020 – which would meet 5.2-6% of Austin Energy’s electric demand – would be affordable.  Current affordability limits are set at 2% of anticipated utility revenue and the solar program would never go beyond 0.31% – likely less, according to the LSAC report and would reduce costs by 2020.  The affordable nature of the plan is what got low income advocates to support it.

Susan McDowell, executive director at Lifeworks supports the expansion of Austin’s solar goals.  “Keeping up with rising electric bills is a struggle for many working families, especially in the summer.  Solar is cheaper over the long run and can ease that pressure.  We need more solar programs geared toward working families, including those who rent.”

Instead of embracing the recommendations, Austin Energy has proposed a 42% cut to its solar rebate program for fiscal year 2014, from $7.3 million to $4.2 million.  Supporters of the LSAC recommendations are asking City Council to move in the opposite direction and expand the solar budget to $10 million dollars.

We need a solar budget large enough to meet demand. This year, Austin Energy reduced the solar rebate to avoid running out of money before the year was over.  Solar is becoming more popular and we should take advantage of that.

While the LSAC did envision an eventual reduction and end to solar rebates, the Committee recommended investing more now to establish the industry in Austin and take advantage of a 30% federal tax credit for solar installations.

“Low solar prices, coupled with the 30% federal tax credit, give us the opportunity to get more solar installed for each dollar spent than ever before,” says BJ Stanbery, CEO of Heliovolt.  “And unlike most of the other energy sources we rely on, our investment in solar feeds into our local economy.  The time to establish the Austin solar business cluster is now because the 2016 federal ITC reduction from 30% to 10% is setting the timeline for industry maturation.”

The solar industry has already created hundreds of jobs in Austin, many of them in installation.  Solar installation companies are small, locally owned business and the jobs they create can’t be outsourced.

Carey Ibrahimbegovic, president and CEO of Greenbelt solar says, “We’re working hard to bring solar to as many families and business as we can and we’re creating good local jobs as we do that.  Austin area solar companies already employ over 600 people and meeting a 400 MW solar goal will create an estimated 420 new local direct and induced jobs each year from 2013 to 2020, with an average increase in local annual payroll of over $10 million.”

Solar Austin Happy Hour: Expanding Solar Goals and Programs in Austin

Please note:
No happy hour in June.
Starting July 16, our happy hours will be on
the third Tuesday of each month
at Scholz Garten. 

~~~~~~

RSVP HERE

Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 5:30 – 8:00pm

Scholz Garten, in the Saloon (Private) room

1607 San Jacinto, Austin, TX,78701 (map)

~~~~~~

Parking is usually free in the state parking garages after 6:00 p.m.

State Parking Garages can be found next to, behind and across from Scholz Garten. San Jacinto Blvd., 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and Trinity have parking garage entrances.

~~~~~~ 

We invite you to join us on for a happy hour discussion of solar goals and programs at Austin Energy and how to ensure that Austin maintains its role as a solar leader in Texas.
 
In April, 2012, Austin City Council established the Local Solar Advisory Committee (LSAC) to develop a strategic plan for utilizing solar energy resources in Austin.  The LSAC was a 20-member citizen committee with broad representation from the community and a wealth of expertise on solar energy.
Over the course of five months, the LSAC researched many aspects of solar energy and developed a report with recommendations for how Austin should expand development of our solar energy resources.  On November 1, 2012, the LSAC unanimously approved the report, titled “A Strategic Plan for Local Solar in Austin“.
The report shows that Austin Energy can cost effectively develop 400-600 megawatts of solar capacity by 2020.  The LSAC also recommended several other policy changes, including:
  • a regular review of our progress toward our solar goals,
  • establishing community solar options for those who rent or have a roof that is shaded or facing the wrong direction, and
  • improving financing options.
Austin City Council will soon be working on the 2014 budget, so now is a great time to make sure that the LSAC recommendations are implemented and appropriate funding for program expansions is allocated. 
 
Austin has lead the way on solar development in Texas, largely because solar advocates like you have shared your views and expertise with Austin Energy and Austin City Council.
Please join us on Tuesday, July 16th at Scholz Garten to hear more about the LSAC recommendations and how we can make ourselves heard at City Hall.  Members of our board of directors will speak briefly about the issues and then open the floor to comments, questions and discussion.
5:30 PM: Happy Hour and Networking
6:30 PM: Speakers and Discussion